Are you about to embark on the “Great House Hunt”? Buying a house is quite an endeavour. There are a few things you need to consider when you look for a new home. This is especially true in South Africa and is important if you’re a first-time home buyer. Or if you’re upgrading from a sectional title townhouse to a larger freestanding home like I did.
What do you need to think about before you choose a house to buy? There are many factors regarding the location as well as the layout and design of the building itself. Let’s examine the key considerations for finding your dream home in South Africa. I’ll break down all you need to know before making your final decision.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Location is the most important factor to consider when buying a house in South Africa. You want to make sure that the area is safe and has a good reputation. And you want to choose a neighbourhood that is convenient for your daily needs. Think about the future prospects of the area. Can you find any information on planned developments? What about the potential for property value growth?
· The area the house is in will influence the value of the property. Municipal Rates amounts differ by area. Don’t forget to factor monthly rates in when deciding your bond budget.
· Does the area you’re looking at have a potential for an increase in property value in the future? My property has been evaluated at about a third as much as we paid for it in 2017. Helderberg, WC property prices shot up 16% a year after we bought.
· When considering an area, investigate it yourself. Drive around it at different times during the day. Make sure it’s safe and has a good reputation.
Check out the following:
- Proximity to schools: What are your daily needs? If you have kids you need schools – preschool to high school. Being close to the schools you want to send your kids to is important for the catchment area. It’s also convenient for getting to and from school.
- Proximity to shops: Driving 10 minutes to get bread and milk is not convenient.
- Proximity to hospitals and GP: Factor in about a 20-minute (at most) radius for medical needs.
- Proximity to your workplace: Sitting in 45 minutes of traffic before you even get to the office is not fun. I can personally attest to this. If you are a couple with a family, at least one adult needs to be able to get home/to school quickly if there’s an emergency.
- Traffic during peak times: Will you be able to get where you need to be without sitting on the road for a long time?
- Safety: Look for clues like the number of houses with electric fences vs open front yards/low walls. How many houses in the area have security company boards on the front walls? Is there an active Neighbourhood Watch programme? Are there kids riding bicycles or playing in the local parks? Are people walking their dogs or going for a jog?
- Foot traffic: Are there a lot of people walking through the area? Areas with a lot of foot traffic are bound to have more house break-ins. Criminals scout by pretending to be on their way from A to B. Areas between two main hubs get a lot of foot traffic.
- Neighbourhood community: Do people know their neighbours? Is there an active community Whatsapp group to keep in touch and informed?
- Are there any planned developments in the area? Will it detract from the property value or increase it?
If you’re keen to put your stamp on a fixer-upper project, the location is important. Look for the “worst” house in your top three areas. Make sure your budget includes funds for whatever you need to fix. Or try for an access bond (with a higher amount than the sale price) so the bank will lend you funds to do improvements.
A DESIGN AND LAYOUT WISHLIST
When it comes to the design and layout of your dream home, you need to have a clear idea of what you want before you start your search.
How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need? Where will your vehicles park? What do you envision for outdoor living and entertainment spaces? What does your family need space for? If you need a workspace, make sure there’s a spare room or a study area. Avid gardener? Check out the property for veggie garden space. Got kids? Make sure there’s some sort of play area. Whether it’s big enough bedrooms, a dedicated playroom or an outdoor area, kids need somewhere to play. Play is important and you DO NOT want the toys all over your living room floor. I’m currently wishing my small house had a playroom, and I only have one kid.
Having a clear idea of what you want will help you narrow down your options. A wishlist makes the process of finding the right house much easier. I’d actually make two lists: one for essentials, and one for #dreamhousegoals. Some properties will reveal a bonus gem that will make you turn to your partner and say “This is it!”.
CHOOSING THE HOUSE FOR YOU
Once you’ve found the perfect location and have a clear wishlist, you can start looking at houses for sale. It’s essential to take your time and view several houses before deciding. Look for potential issues, such as damp, structural problems, or a need for repairs. Take photos when you view a house. Do a second viewing. It’s a good idea to have a home inspector look at the property before you make an offer.
Before you put in offers and do negotiations, consider the following about the house:
- How old is the building?
- Does the architectural style suit your personal style? Don’t buy a Tudor-style house if your taste is mid-century modern.
- Are the original and updated house plans available? The Estate Agent should be able to get them for you.
- Are the rooms in proportion? A tiny kitchen and a large main bathroom don’t make sense.
- Does every room lead off a passage/hallway or at least from a large main room? Or do you have to walk through a busy or private space to an extension?
- Will the sizes of the rooms accommodate your prized possessions? Sofas are easy to change, but if you need to fit in an 8-seater dining table or a piano, make sure there’s space for them.
- Is the garden size or setup manageable for your personal skills? Can you afford garden services, or will you be doing garden work yourself? Is there space for a vegetable garden if that’s your thing? Are there any fruit trees to bless you with an annual bounty?
- Is there enough space for the family? Is there any upcoming life change likely to happen over the next few years? Will you be having kids or more kids than those you already have? Do you need a home office space or a workshop area for projects? Do you need a room for an elderly parent or a guest space for visitors? Is there space to entertain friends and family? Or is there space outside to create a new entertainment area?
- Is there a place for your pets?
- What is the aspect of the house? Which rooms are North-facing (for Southern Hemisphere) for the best sunlight?
- Does the house have solar power or a borehole? Or both?
- What’s the view like? What do you see out the windows? Does the house face a valley by the sea? Is it surrounded by shady trees? Is there an old unkempt train station or a neighbour’s badly built extension? If the views are not so great, are you able to remedy it with trellises, foliage or fencing?
- What’s the privacy and security of the outdoor spaces like? What is the security access like for parking your car(s)? What is the front door access like? Would your dog be safe out in the front garden or is it lacking a front wall or fencing?
- What is behind the property? If the house is surrounded on all 3 (or 2 for a corner) sides, you’re good. If there’s open ground on the other side of the back wall, be wary. Criminals jump over back walls where no one is likely to notice them breaching the perimeter.
- Check with the Estate agent that there are no undisclosed latent defects on the property. It’s actually a great idea to view a house on a rainy day to check things like leaks and run-off. Check for damp, especially in coastal areas.
- Has the seller recently had repairs done to any defects and can they provide the guarantees?
- You should also check if there’s anything about the house that’s different to the latest plans. Has anything been built without approval? The seller is liable to get approved plans for structural changes.
- Has the seller got electrical and pest clearance certificates? How old is the geyser?
- Does the property have any servitudes? Is the water meter inside the walls or on the verge?
- Has the seller included any non-fixtures in the sale? Have these been detailed on the ‘Offer to Purchase’ document? Are there any outdoor items or appliances that are optional to add to the sale?
- Built-in appliances would come with the house. Check if the sale includes any large freestanding appliances. If all the large freestanding appliances match but weren’t included ask if they can be. They may not have thought about it. Build a good relationship with the seller before you broach this subject. Make sure the appliances are in good working order and be realistic about their value.
- Ask about outdoor things. Don’t take for granted that pool covers and cleaning equipment will be left for you. Don’t forget speakers and AV equipment that have been installed, but could easily be removed by the seller if they wanted it.
- If there is an agreement for you to buy any loose items make sure they are listed on the sale agreement. Anything not mentioned in the agreement can be taken by the seller without argument.
If anything is not exactly to your liking, but you love the home overall, can you afford to make your personal upgrades?
MAKING THE HOUSE YOUR OWN
When buying a house in South Africa, it’s important to keep in mind that you may need to renovate or make changes to the property to fit your needs. Most houses will need something done to make them perfect for YOU. This could include remodelling the kitchen – here are 10 Cost-saving Kitchen Renovation Tips. The bathrooms are likely to need updating – read 8 Things You Need To Know Before Your Bathroom Reno Project. You may want to build an extension. Change could be as small as painting walls (Ask A Paint Specialist before you do that). It’s important to factor in the cost of renovations when deciding on a property, and to make sure that you have the necessary skills and resources to complete the work.
Imagine what major and minor renovations you would need to do. Or want to do. Get existing house plans from the Estate Agent. Study the house plans to see what changes you could potentially make. Ask the Estate Agent about planning permissions for the site. If you want to extend, would you be able to? Are you allowed to increase the square meterage and to what extent? Would you be allowed to build a second storey? Some areas have restrictions.
Can you move in and live comfortably without doing anything to the house at all? Maybe you want to live there for a while before you decide what to change. Perhaps some areas need work before you move in. Painting walls and ceilings are much easier in an empty house, but not necessary. Breaking down walls is a different story. If you can, you definitely want to do wall changes before you move in. We’re hoping to do an extension on our fixer-upper house soon and I am dreading the dust that will come with the project. We have to board up a passageway to protect half the house from construction dust. And while the work is being done, we have to empty our living room of furniture, books and décor and store everything… and live in half a house. I’ll be documenting all of it in some format or other.
Is the building an older home with valuable original features? Architectural details add a lot of character. Look out for gables, hardwood flooring, solid wood architraves, high ceilings, and a beautiful fireplace. Has a previous modern reno covered up any of these? There may be carpets concealing parquet or Oregon pine flooring.
HAPPY HOUSE HUNTING!
Buying a house in South Africa can be a daunting task. By considering location, design and layout, you can find the perfect fit. Factor in renovating to fit your needs, and you can find your dream home. Remember to take your time, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. I wish you the best of luck with finding a perfect new home for your family.
Need help with the look of your new home? I do aesthetic concept boards that help you keep on track during a renovation. And they’re really helpful when you shop for new furniture and accessories. Contact me here about your project.