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Mull pros and cons when you are buying a property off-plan

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There are many enticing factors around buying a property off-plan, but the one many find most exciting is that they get a say in what the final product will look like.

However, buyers must be realistic about how much they can change, and realise most changes will incur additional costs, says Adrian Goslett, regional director and chief executive Re/Max of Southern Africa.

“While each off-plan build will have its own customisable options, the rule of thumb is that buyers will have a choice of most fixtures and fittings. Any structural changes can be done only pending approval from the developers, and are likely to result in additional costs since plans will have to be redrawn to include your changes.”

For most off-plan builds, he says homeowners can expect a range of choices for the following:

  • cupboard door finishes and handles
  • kitchen countertops
  • flooring options 
  • paint colour.

“Generally, buyers will have a choice between a handful of options for each feature. In some cases, one option might come as standard, others at an additional charge. If you don’t like any features on offer by the developers, you may usually propose your preferred option, but this will come at your own cost if approved.”

Goslett cautions buyers who hope to make changes after the home is completed as, in most cases, the red tape does disappear once the property is built. 

“Off-plan properties are often built in estates managed by homeowners’ associations with strict bylaws regulating the appearance of all homes within the community. Some even state what sort of plants may be used in the gardens.”

While it might be easier to get away with changes to the inside of your home, buyers should not assume they can go ahead with alterations to the exterior rejected by the developers during building.

“Buying off plan is not the same as building your own home,” he says. Buying off-plan also means you will pay sizable deposit, with the balance of the purchase price payable only on transfer to the client, says Mike Greeff, chief executive of Greeff Christie’s International Real Estate.

The deposit, held in a trust fund, accrues interest for the purchaser. “Your deposit depends entirely on the developer, but it’s usually between 5% and 20% of the purchase price.

Remember, even if a building is well on its way, it is still considered off-plan.” For buyers who want to be the first to live in a home, there are many ways off-plan properties can be found.

The main method, he says, is by using a reputable real estate company which will be aware of the latest and upcoming developments. Keith Anderson, a Dogon Group Properties agent specialising in developments and resales in the City Bowl, says: “Buyers may see adverts in the media, on-line property portals, or hear about them via word of mouth.” 

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