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House Hunting 101 on Rita Hello

There comes a time when picking out the perfect outfit in the morning is the least of your worries and things such as picking the perfect house is what consumes your every thought. First of all, I’d just like to say, there is no such thing as the perfect house. It is like a relationship, there’ll always be those little things that bug you but you decide if everything great about it outweighs what frustrates you. If there has been anything I learned through all of this, it is patience and endurance.

Andre moved in with me on our anniversary and soon after the hunt began. We knew exactly what we did and didn’t want, but we also knew that we had no clue what we were doing. I love making lists and Andre loves spreadsheets, so between the two of us, we had lists of what we must have, things we weren’t too hectic about, as well as absolute no-nos. These were, of course, put in nice spreadsheets. Every time we went to go see a place we looked at how it compared to our list. We looked at so many places… Dealt with so many realtors… Saw so many cookie cutters and spent hours on property websites.

There were houses that we walked out of and just went ‘Nah’. It wasn’t at all because of what the place looked like (maybe a little bit) but it was because we couldn’t see ourselves going about our day there. We wanted a townhouse because we weren’t prepared to deal with the costs of fixing a roof if anything was to happen. Paying a levy suited us just fine and that was where the next exclusion process came in. We made sure to enquire about all levy and rates and taxes costs which enabled us to eliminate those that we felt were too high, considering that there’s a very good chance it would increase the following year. All places that didn’t allow pets or weren’t open to the idea of Kahla living there was out immediately. All the places that had rooms where Andre could touch a wall with his fingertips and the opposite wall with his toes were out. We need space and space were what limited our options the most. Essentially we soon realised that we had to set our sights on a fixer upper. The flats with space were older flats and those that have been renovated by previous or current owners was a disaster mix of cheap fittings, hollow and cracked tiles and uneducated design choices. The newer townhouses, aside from the limited space, all had fittings and cupboards we would never in a million years choose ourselves. We would have to redo everything anyway to make it our own.

The solution: Find the cheapest, reasonably untouched place, with the most space and the best location. Throughout all of this, I forgot to mention the location. This is one of the most important things. If there is one thing my parents taught me it is to never buy the most expensive house in a bad area but rather the least expensive house in a very good area. You then have the opportunity to be able to spend more on your house, in the long run, knowing that you won’t easily reach a spending roof. You should always be able to put your house back on the market the next day and be sure you’ll at least make your money back (A great tip from Andre’s parents). When it comes to buying a townhouse it becomes a bit tricky. Look at the best price a unit in that complex or estate has sold for and look at how much it would cost to renovate and add that to the total selling price. If you won’t be able to fix everything, sell the unit the next week and make your money back, it is not worth it.

I’m no property expert but I’ve compiled lists of things that I think is important and some I feel is crucial when looking to buy a place of your own.

 Before the Hunt

  1. Determine a budget (obviously!). If your budget is for argument’s sake R1 500 000 remember to keep in mind that you will have to pay a legal fee as well as transfer costs, so leave some breathing room for those expenses.
  2. List your needs for the next 5-10 years. Do your plans include kids or more kids? Make sure there’s enough room. Do your plans include loads of traveling? Make sure you can lock everything up and go explore without unnecessary concerns.
  3. List must-haves, nice-to haves and things you don’t want. Be realistic about what you REALLY need and don’t compromise, if the house doesn’t fit the bill it is going to be a constant frustration.
  4. Make a list of important things that suit your lifestyle. For example, if you’re a gym bunny make sure to add that to your list. Every one of those makes it easier to maintain the lifestyle you enjoy. Restaurants and entertainment were a biggie on our list.
  5. Decide in which area you want to or have to live and which areas you would consider living in. Take a look at Google maps during peak hour traffic and see what the estimated traveling time is from your house to your workplace.
  6. Do you want an apartment, a townhouse, freestanding and so on? If you don’t know you’ll realise what you like very quickly.
  7. Work out what monthly installment and/or levy and property tax you can afford. Remember that all of these increase every year. So rather underspend.
  8. Go to police stations in the suburbs you’re interested in or have a look online at what the crime statistics of the specific areas are.

 The Hunt

  1. Have a look at what is on the market, it might not be the best time for buying and if it isn’t, don’t.
  2. Decide whether you want to tackle a fixer-upper or do you want something that doesn’t need much more than a coat of fresh paint. (Just note when renovating always include a possible 20% overspend on your renovation budget)
  3. Go and see tons of places, both in and out of your comfort zone.
  4. Don’t even go and look at a place that doesn’t fall in your budget, you’re wasting your time and you’ll put yourself in a tough position where you start considering debt that might just ruin you.
  5. Take photographs of all the places you look at. If something looks like there’s a crack or some water damage take a picture and show it to somebody who’ll be able to tell you if it is worrisome or not. Ask the occupants if you can look inside the cupboards. You’ll have to know if you need to replace shelving that is rotten. We tend to remember things differently than it was in reality.
  6. If you are interested in a place, take somebody you trust, who is level headed and who understands your needs to go have a look. You might be overly emotional or hasty and they might shed some light on the situation. This helped us a lot!
  7. Don’t let anybody rush you, take your time looking. If the house sells before you can make a move, it was never meant to be.
  8. Ask how long the property has been on the market and if it is been a while, ask why.
  9. Take note of how close the house is to amenities such as schools, shopping malls, gyms, petrol stations and so forth. These are all good selling points. Another good note if you commute via a highway is to see how far the house is from the nearest offramp.
  10. Trust your gut.

Even with all our meticulous planning, everything was not smooth sailing, as is expected. We found a place that we absolutely adored, Andre made an offer and the owner declined, he made yet another offer and the owner declined yet again. Soon we realised that we were fighting a losing battle and we had to except that with the work the house needed there was no way it made any financial sense to pay the selling price. When we started setting our sights on a fixer upper we very quickly learned that even if you had the lowest of low price, adding the renovation costs was the big decision maker. If a place sells for R1 200 000 and the highest selling price in the area or complex is R1 600 000, you can’t spend more than R400 000. This specific house left us with almost no renovation money when we put this into perspective. Not even delving into more savings justified it and no amount of wooden spiral staircases and brass door knobs the house had to offer could change the facts. The moment this realisation really hit us I was heartbroken. I could see myself living there, in fact in my mind I was living there already. This made saying goodbye to the house even harder. But luckily after picking up all the pieces of shattered dreams, we found our splendid home.

It was at a time where we were so over house hunting. We phoned the realtor anyway with a ‘What do we have to lose attitude’. What we found was great. It was a shell with good bones, fairly untouched, with loads of potential.

We went back with renewed hope and a little light went on again. Poor Andre had to withstand a bunch on clicking from my side as we waited for the realtor.

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  • Reply
    Sasha Hoffmann
    August 22, 2015 at 3:49 PM

    Me and my husband are also looking at buying our first home and this blog definitely touches on a lot of what we are going through. Although we tend to have the problem that areas we are very interested in are highly sought after and people putting in offers against yours are something we weren’t that prepared for. But your blog gives me hope it’s going to happen. Can’t wait to finally have our own place where I can get stuck in making it ours.

    • Reply
      August 22, 2015 at 4:23 PM

      Hello Sasha! I’m so glad you can relate! We had the exact same problem as you. We were looking in the four older, but more established areas of Pretoria such as Lynnwood, Brooklyn, Waterkloof and Groenkloof. Luckily though most people weren’t up for the task of renovating. I completely agree that being a part of a bidding war is a bad idea, it pushes up the price and you end up paying more than what the house is worth. Plus it leaves you with no spending money to fix the things that bug you. I’m so glad that you’re feeling a tad more optimistic and I can’t wait for you guys to find your perfect home! It is going to happen 🙂 Good luck and keep me updated!

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