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How to buy a house during lockdown level 3 and 4

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Buying is going ahead, despite the restrictions, but processes can be more complicated than they are usually... experts offer advice. By Bonny Fourie

Estate agencies have had to rely almost solely on technology to market their properties while buyers and sellers have had to adapt their plans to suit this “new normal”.

All players within the market are, however, in the same boat when it comes to planning their home purchases and this boat is, for the most part, sailing into unknown waters. Here experts offer advice to buyers on how to purchase a property during lockdown levels 4 and 3.

BUYING

Planning

Buyers must be pre-qualified so they know what they can afford and how far they can stretch their offers, says Craig Mott, Western Cape sales manager for the Rawson Property Group. “Make a list of the must-haves, dealbreakers and non-negotiables that you’re looking for – such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms; the importance of off-street parking; whether you want a new property or a fixer upper; do you want a garden; should it be free-standing or can it be sectional title, and so on.”

The hunt

Estate agents can offer virtual viewings to buyers through pre-recorded video footage or a live virtual tour of the property, says Mike Greeff, chief executive of Greeff Christie’s International Real Estate. After searching online and narrowing down choices, says Claude McKirby, co-principal of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Cape Town’s southern suburbs, a buyer needs to contact the estate agent and ask for all necessary information. This includes seeing additional, walk-through videos, a list of fixtures and fittings and any other pertinent information. Mott says buyers need to remember that property is a long-term investment, so any purchases should be done with the future in mind. “Things like fibre-readiness, prepaid electricity metres, energy-efficient designs and grey-water capturing systems could all be beneficial in the long run. “Location is vital in today’s times and having access to public transport, shops and amenities is crucial.”

Offer to Purchase

Should the buyer be interested in buying a property, Greeff says they can sign an offer to purchase, which will be subject to viewing the property after the lockdown is lifted or when it is safe to do so. The buyer should insist on including this suspensive condition to view the property as soon as lockdown regulations allow, agrees McKirby, adding that the voetstoots clause will still apply.

“It is very important for the buyer to familiarise themselves with any patent defects during the viewing process.” While buyers can get an accurate idea of what the property looks like through virtual viewings, especially for smaller homes, says Tim Greeff, sales director at Greeff Christie’s International Real Estate, the “subject to physical viewing” clause will also allow the buyer to withdraw their offer should they not like the property after seeing it in real life.

Similarly, a clause should state that the offer will only be valid once structural inspections are done, he says. “Should the home not be structurally sound, the buyer is able to withdraw their offer, based on the outcomes of the various inspections.”

McKirby says an alternative for the buyer is to get the seller to grant them a “right of first refusal” on the property which, in effect, gives them first option on the property should the seller receive an offer on the property during lockdown. Mott says it is “amazing” how many deals are being signed subject to the buyer viewing the property. Although some sales will fall through, in general, a committed buyer is likely to proceed after viewing.

“There may be instances where contracts are altered to include terms around maintenance or other issues that may arise with viewing.”

Challenges

The biggest challenge for a buyer is the uncertainty of making an offer on an unseen property, McKirby says, reiterating the need for buyers to ensure their rights are protected in the offer to purchase. Affordability is one of the main challenges buyers will face during this time, says Tim Greeff.

“If they have had to take a salary cut, or if they have been retrenched, their affordability would change significantly. Despite interest rates being at their lowest, banks are becoming more stringent when considering home loans.

“After being approved for a home loan, prior to lockdown, buyers find banks are taking a second look at your application and if your salary was cut drastically, or you have been retrenched, they might revoke your home loan or change the amount. Another challenge a buyer might experience is a delay at the Deeds Office. 

Junel Hickman, associate attorney, notary and conveyancer at STBB, says the Deeds Office is open for business but with a limited number of staff members. “With only a third of the staff permitted to go back to work at a time, they are not able to work as fast as they normally do.”

There will also be a time delay in obtaining certificates like electrical, gas, beetle, plumbing, electric fence and rates clearance, Mott says. Furthermore, in some municipalities, rates offices are closed.

There could also be complications around occupation dates as sellers might get an offer on their property and find themselves in a position where they need to find a suitable property to move to. “Alignment of occupation dates can prove tricky depending on the regulations imposed on the different lockdown levels.”

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