IT"S EASY to get carried away when you're searching through property listings for the house of your dreams. But if you're not careful, home buying can become a nightmare.

"Buying a property is a complex and potentially stressful process, not least because it involves such a scary amount of money," says Kevin Lampen-Smith, chief executive at the Real Estate Agents Authority (REAA).

"It's smart to do as much as you can to reduce the risk of unwelcome surprises or unexpected costs further down the line."

In the first instance, Lampen-Smith recommends drawing up a list of questions to ask about properties you're interested in.

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"Remember that you can ask the real estate agent anything you like about the property," he says. "They are also required to tell you everything they know and not withhold any details."

If you're not sure what to ask, here's a handy list of questions. Open homes can be busy, so ask the agent if you can talk on the phone, or send questions via email.

• Have there been any issues with the property, such as earthquake damage or water-tightness?

• Are there any offers on the property, or have any contracts been cancelled by potential buyers?

• How long has it been on the market? What is the seller's preferred settlement date?

• What maintenance, repairs or improvements have been carried out? Do these have permits?

• Is there a Land Information Memorandum (LIM) available or a building report prepared by an accredited property surveyor?

• Is the property well-maintained? What condition are the roof, piles, wiring, and plumbing in?

• Is the property insulated? If so, to what degree (eg walls, underfloor, ceiling)?

• Is there any risk of methamphetamine (P) contamination?

• If there is a body corporate (usually for apartments), what does that entail?

• Are there any issues with neighbours or planned developments?

"If you are seriously considering making an offer, you will need to do your own research and seek professional advice. It may well become your home, so you need to know as much about it as possible to save unhappy surprises later," Lampen-Smith says.

"Knowing the right questions to ask is a good starting point."

• For more advice on buying a property in New Zealand, or to download a free Home Buyers' Guide, visit buyingahome.reaa.govt.nz.