Cape Town - Finding the right property in today's market is not for the faint-hearted. But take courage - with a lot of patience, perseverance and a good dose of realism you will find a possie to suit your pocket and bring a smile to your face.
Here are a few tips and tricks to bear in mind in your property search, from a recent buyer who finally met her match after being on the hunt for 14-odd months.
Be your own estate agent
Love them or hate them, there’s no getting around the fact that these are the people who will show you the properties on offer.
In my case, I had very definite ideas and a limited budget which placed me in an awkward category. None of the male agents I met on showings ever bothered to get back to me, despite their fulsome promises (sorry guys), but a sprinkling of ladies were very helpful and genuinely concerned.
But with so little on offer, I simply became my own agent. I drove around at weekends looking for show house signs, found a useful little property magazine that comes out every Thursday and placed an alert on Property24, which I found to be the best online source.
It is useful to bear in mind that however nice, your estate agent wants to make a sale and is not your friend.
Do your homework
Is it too far to walk to the bus stop? Will the neighbours' overgrown trees scupper your dreams of growing plants which will thrive only in full sunlight? Look at all the niggly little things that have such an effect on everyday life, and be sure to consider the property carefully from all angles and at different times of day.
Speak to neighbours
Don't be afraid to knock on someone's door and ask a few questions. Is the neighbourhood safe? (Everybody's house on the street except mine has been broken into, I was once told.)
Is it quiet? (The man next door runs a business from home and revs cars all the time, including at weekends, I was told by another candid neighbour.)
Are the people around here decent? (You're about to move into a drug pushers' paradise, a colleague was told when she put in her very first offer - luckily she was able to make a last-minute cancellation.)
I was surprised by people's friendliness and willingness to talk to a complete stranger. Try it and you might learn some startling facts no agent will ever tell you.
Choose your compromise
It is highly unlikely that you will find a property which will tick every box on your wish list. Start looking around, get a feel for the market and decide what you absolutely must have, and what you can live without.
Big kitchen or spacious bedrooms? And do the fascia boards need a lick of paint? Be sure to take along a handyman or informed person on a second viewing to suss out the state of the gas canister cover and drains.
The very first estate agent who showed me around practically bullied me into contacting a bond originator. I quickly saw that this was a very efficient, friendly and helpful person and was happy to make use of her services.
She was endlessly patient, explained everything to me and filled in all the tricky questions on the bond application form. It was a real boon not to have to trudge around to the various banks in person, and in the end she got me a very sweet deal, considering current market conditions.
Being a pre-approved buyer makes viewings a lot easier and can also sway an offer in your favour.
And it won’t cost you anything - bond originators receive their commission from the bank which grants you a bond.
Putting in an offer
When I put in my first offer, I slavishly followed the agent's advice and didn't realise that I could lay down the law.
It is your prerogative to stipulate however long you want your offer to be valid for, e g until midnight that same day or 2pm the next day.
Stick to your guns
Do not be swayed by exasperated agents who do their best to persuade you to settle for what's on offer. In my case, there was almost nothing available in my target area and in my price range – but plenty of good-priced properties in the far less desirable neighbourhood next door.
Just as I was about to give up all hope, I proved the naysayers wrong by finding exactly what I was looking for - and in my dream neighbourhood to boot.
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