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10 tips for getting ahead of the house hunting pack

Sharpen those elbows and set the speed dial. If you want to find the home of your dreams, you can’t be a passive bystander who simply hopes for the best.

House hunting tips

Article summary:

  • If you want to find the home of your dreams, you can’t be a passive bystander who simply hopes for the best.
  • ooba’s 10-point cheat sheet will help you get ahead of the house-hunting pack.

Sharpen those elbows and set the speed dial. If you want to find the home of your dreams, you can’t be a passive bystander who simply hopes for the best. This is a time for using every ounce of cunning and initiative needed to track down your perfect property – in other words, to be a regular Sherlock Holmes or Jessica Fletcher.

House hunting tips

To help you crack your house-buying case, use ooba’s 10-point cheat sheet, purpose-designed to unleash the property sleuth within.

1. Work the estate agent

Instead of treating estate agents as foes, make them your friends. Get them on your side. If you’re buying a cup of coffee on the way to a viewing, why not get one for the agent, as well? Don’t just schmooze the agents, impress them by submitting your requirements and bond arrangements in writing. To estate agents marketing a decent property, prospective buyers are a dime a dozen. You need to stand head and shoulders above the other buyers.

Estate agent David Pollock, author of 101 Things Your Estate Agent Should Tell You, agrees. “Keep their business card and write down some personal facts about them, such as whether they’re married, or have children. If they like you they are more likely to find out what you want.”

Once you have wormed your way into your agent’s confidence through copious cappuccinos and enquiries about their children, put this intimacy to practical use. Squeeze them for information. Why are the sellers moving (death, debt or divorce)? How long has their property been on the market? How many offers have been made? What’s the lowest price they would accept? You’ll be surprised how readily an agent will respond, provided you’ve put in enough spadework.

2. Plan coordinated raids

Viewing properties in a piecemeal fashion just doesn’t work. If you take too long over your viewings, there’s a risk that when you decide you want the first house you saw, it’s already been sold. Instead, put aside a whole day, and do a number of viewings. Also, go on a weekday. Estate agents will give you more time than on the weekend, when the world and his wife wants to view.

3. Get visual evidence

Take your own pictures. These are much more useful than glossy agents’ shots. Film your visits on your phone, too. That way, you have something to refer to when the properties start to blur in your brain.

4. Think outside the box

We must be the only nation in the world that still refers to the size of house by the number of bedrooms it has. Everywhere else, it is expressed in square metres. That’s how we ought to think. Envisage the potential of a property, not being limited by the present configuration of the walls. Equally, don’t immediately dismiss an off-putting interior. Sometimes a feature wall or an unusual colour scheme just needs a little time to show its brilliance. If the house has already been well designed, buying it off the peg can save you from an expensive, disruptive renovation project later.

5. Gather clues

Once you’re inside the front door, it is your big opportunity. Don’t just waft around admiring the soft furnishings. Make a detailed forensic examination. Use all of your senses. First your nose: can you smell damp, or mustiness? Then take a closer look around: are there any patches of coloured wallpaper or paintwork. Look for telltale signs of why the sellers are moving, such as a baby scan on the fridge, or piles of letters from the estate agent or bank. These may contain pointers as to how long the place has been on the market, and what price the agents actually think the place will fetch. Then put your hands to work. Turn the shower on and check the pressure. Don’t be shy.

6. Radio back to base

Switch on your cellphone and check there’s a signal in the house. You don’t want to live in a communications black spot.

7. Night-time stakeouts

If you like a house, don’t just visit it during the day. Come back at night, when noisy neighbours might be around, or that quiet restaurant nearby gets rowdy. Find out when bin-collection day is too. And check if the locals leave out neatly tied-up recycling sacks, or strew black bags all over the place for the resident cats to feast from.

8. Build a case

If you want evidence of an area’s upwardly-mobile-ness, find out if any new housing developments are planned. The big firms don’t send in the diggers unless they’re certain they are going to strike gold (well, at least find ready buyers). Also look out for skips in the road – they’re a sure sign that the renovation teams are in, and the area is on the up. Coffee shops such as Vida are another reliable indicator of gentrification. And you could always put a tail on what Woolworths is up to. They specialise in sniffing out places that are on the rise.

9. Trust your hunches

In order to get a result, you’ve got to go with your gut feeling. You can be equipped with all the facts, floor plans and flow charts, but the clinching factor in any property purchase is human instinct.

10. Put word out on the streets

Sign up for online alerts letting you know about properties that are for sale in the streets and postcodes where you would like to buy. Websites such as Lightstoneproperty.co.za also list the prices fetched by homes in your target suburbs over a number of years.

At the same time, visit the offices of estate agents in the areas you have chosen. After all, in the end house hunting is about dealing with people, not just bricks and mortar.

South Africa’s leading bond originator offers a range of home loan calculators to help people looking to buy a home determine what they can afford. Click here to access ooba’s free, online prequalification tool, the ooba Bond Indicator. Then, when you’re ready, you can get prequalified or apply for a home loan with ooba.

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