Knowing when it’s time to buy a house and get yourself on the property ladder is often about finances. There’s not much point in scanning listings for sale until you’re confident you can get a home loan – that’s why you should check what size home loan you can afford, based on the monthly repayments, using our affordability calculator. For even more confidence, you might want to investigate pre-approval, so that you know exactly how much you can afford before scanning those for-sale listings.
Once you know you that you can afford to make your home ownership dream come true, consider these house-hunting tips:
Make a list
Start by making a comprehensive list of what you need in a home before you even look at property sales pages. Your list should include the maximum price you can afford, an evaluation of your current and future needs, the lifestyle you want in the area you’ll be living in, and security and proximity to amenities. You can also add the must-have features, depending on your needs. A family pool, for instance, or an extra room that can be turned into a home office.
Do you want a free-standing house or sectional title ownership? You’ll pay for rates and municipal services on both, but in a sectional title development, certain expenses are split between all the homeowners via the monthly levy. If you own a free-standing house, you’re solely responsible for all the monthly costs of security, garden and home maintenance. In terms of renovations, additions, external colours and finishes and so on, you can do what you like (subject to municipal by-laws) with a free-standing home. In a sectional title development like a townhouse complex, secure estate or block of flats, however, your options for exterior remodelling will be limited by the body corporate rules and decisions.
Consult some experts
Now it’s time to narrow down the choice of neighbourhoods that you qualify to buy in. The houses in affordable suburbs may look attractive from the outside, but if you want to understand the general character of an area before you settle there, you should ask some local estate agents. Get a few to give you their list of the pros and cons of that area, then compare notes to see if there are any themes, positive or negative, that crop up on several lists – which should give you some consensus on local expert opinion.
Visit a property to view it
Online property sites and virtual home showings are a technological blessing – they save you lots of time, and they’re so much safer when there’s a pandemic raging. They are an excellent way to take a quick look at all the homes for sale in your price range and the area you fancy, so you can rule out those that don’t match your list of requirements. The Home-buying Toolkit on the Nedbank Money app brings ‘property search’ to your fingertips.
It’s wise to visit the area more than once, preferably on different days and at different times of the day
But these online showings are no substitute for seeing the home for yourself. Property listings are geared towards painting a rosy picture, after all, so you won’t get a proper feel for the house until you see it in person. It’s the only way to avoid nasty surprises after you buy – once you have a list of houses you’re interested in, contact the relevant estate agents to arrange viewings. As you view each property, you can check that things like electrical and plumbing fixtures are working and spot any potential problems that weren’t shown in the pictures.
Look out for defects such as a new paint job that’s concealing cracks, crooked retaining walls, a driveway that’s hard to navigate, and so on. Look into everything: open locked doors, check under the sinks in the kitchen and bathroom, and open cupboards. Inspect the exterior of the house – the state of the roof, the outside rooms, the garage – to be sure of what you’ll be buying before you make an offer.
State of the area and amenities
It’s advisable to visit the area more than once, preferably on different days and at different times of the day, to check any variation in its nature and traffic patterns. An area that’s quiet during the day might become unbearably rowdy at night; or a house that’s next to a school might be hard to get in and out of twice a day, when parents dropping off or picking up children clog the road.
When dealing with an estate agent, don’t reveal too much about what you can afford
Tours of the area also give you an idea of the level of security around the property – could that adjacent park pose a security risk in the future? In an emergency, how far is the hospital, or the police station? Where are the nearest shops? Are other houses in the area neat and well-maintained, or are they in decline, possibly indicating that your home may lose value if the area becomes too downmarket? All these questions are best answered with a personal visit.
The art of negotiation
When dealing with an estate agent, don’t reveal too much about what you can afford (or what you have been approved for), as this may compromise your bargaining room. Set a price range, and make it clear that you’re prepared to adjust it depending on the features a house offers. But don’t give away the maximum amount you can offer.
Remember, estate agents work in the interest of the seller, not the buyer – the higher the price a house fetches, the higher their commission. Hold your cards close to your chest as far as possible. You should also check for how long the property has been listed for sale – if the seller has been waiting months already, you might get an offer accepted that’s lower than the asking price.
When a home ticks all the boxes on your list, your hunt for a home could be over. You’ll be ready to make an offer secure in the knowledge that you’ve done your homework on both the property and the area it’s in, and that the home is worth what you’re prepared to pay for it.