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The exciting – and scary – journey of stepping on to the property ladder

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Experts say it is always worth using the services of an experienced real estate agent to guide you through the labyrinth of buying your first home.

Starting the hunt for that first property is a thrilling journey that leads to so many benefits for owners, but there are also many worries and possible hurdles.

From knowing which properties to view and how much to offer, to navigating the process and choosing the right home, there are a number of anxieties first-time buyers will undoubtedly suffer.

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How much is too much?

Schalk van der Merwe, franchisee for the Rawson Properties Helderberg Group, says buying property is one of the biggest financial decisions a person can make, and so it is not surprising that the number one fear buyers have is overpaying.

“There are a huge number of trends and influences that contribute to a property’s value, and these can make it very hard for a newcomer to the market to judge if a listing price is reasonable. The only way to ease that anxiety is to arm yourself with solid, substantiated evidence.”

He adds: “Remember, trends like buyers’ and sellers’ markets don’t always apply the same way in specific areas, or to specific properties and property types. It’s vital to base offer decisions on specific data that takes context into consideration, rather than generalised – and often outdated – public domain advice.”

Whichever way buyers arrives at their offer price, says Carlo Mariani, founder of The Property Coach, they should never pay more than market value, even if they love the property. This is because banks are unlikely to finance a property bought above market value. Once they have decided to make the offer, they need to be serious about it.
“And make it in writing. Keep it valid for no longer than 24 hours. Agents are always in contact with their sellers.”

Choosing the right home

Everyone wants their first home to be their dream home, but realistically, says Van der Merwe, budget limitations seldom make this possible for first-timers. It can be less stressful to make compromises when buyers understand that their first home doesn’t have to be completely perfect, but can be the perfect stepping-stone towards a future dream home.

“Keep an open mind during the property search, and focus on your must-haves rather than your nice-to-haves. Every home has pros, cons, and loveable quirks – don’t miss out by judging a book by its cover.”

More importantly, one needs to remember that even the most modest property provides invaluable equity in the market, getting the owner “one step closer to affording their forever home down the line”.

Tony Clarke, managing director of the Rawson Property Group, also urges buyers to remember the long-term nature of property investment.
Their decisions must suit not only their needs today, but also in the future.

“Buyers need to be sure a property will support their lifestyle for the next five to 10 years at the very least. Consider things like some room to grow if you hope to start a family, and make sure the location offers everything you may need in terms of job opportunities, schools, shops, transport, sporting, and social facilities.”

They should also be aware of the additional costs that come with buying and owning property, he says.

Fear of missing out (FOMO)

Competition for properties can be intense, and even in today’s sluggish market, Van der Merwe says certain listings never even make it to online portals before being snapped up.

“FOMO is very real in property. We see buyers paralysed waiting for the perfect property that could be just around the corner, and buyers terrified that if their offer is not accepted, they’ll lose their only chance at their dream home.”

These fears become completely unnecessary, however, when buyers are supported by experienced property professionals, he says.

Gerhard Kotzé, managing director of the RealNet estate agency group, adds that young people should also not be driven by FOMO in the current buying conditions as interest rates are likely to stay low for at least the next two years. Home prices will also continue to rise, but very slowly.

“This is a large investment that will have a long-term effect on your finances, so you shouldn’t make it in a rush. Slow down to plan properly and buy when you’re ready.”

Discovering unexpected defects

Nobody wants to get the keys to their new property only to find the roof leaks like a sieve or the foundations are subsiding. Yet, while sellers are required to disclose defects up front, Van der Merwe says the voetstoots clause in South African property contracts makes it the buyers’ responsibility to ensure a full inspection is done before the sale is finalised.

“A good real estate agent can also be an asset here, not just connecting buyers with reputable inspectors, but flagging areas for investigation based on years of experience dealing with properties in all conditions.”

Steve Thomas, real estate agent for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Constantiaberg, says if an owner sells voetstoots, the buyer must agree to undertake and remedy any items noted on the certificate at their own cost and before the transfer is put through. This would, however, deter many buyers.

Not understanding the sales process

For first-time buyers, the property sales process often feels overly complicated and obscured by legalese and jargon. This, says Van der Merwe, creates a lot of unnecessary anxiety that can be avoided with the help of a property professional who understands all the ins, outs, and implications.

“We often see buyers misinterpreting processes like negotiating a final purchase price and ending up disappointed by the outcome. This really is easy to avoid when you’re working with a trusted adviser who can guide you through the complete purchase journey and make sure you know exactly what to expect, every step of the way.”

To make sure you’re working with the right partner, Van der Merwe recommends researching the company and agents with whom you will be working.

“Make sure they are experienced and active in your neighbourhood, are backed by a reputable brand, and have all the support services necessary to facilitate a successful transaction.”

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