Buy With Your Head, Not Your Heart

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

A programme that aired on South African television recently highlighted a couple’s problems with a new house that they had bought in Salt Rock, and the story was pretty horrific. This husband and wife had spent a tidy sum on a home that proved to have a number of expensive defects.

While there are many instances where the new owners only become aware of problems once they have moved in, what was far more concerning in this particular case was the fact that these people had parted with an enormous amount of their hard-earned cash without a second thought, and openly admitted that they had only viewed the property for fifteen minutes before taking the decision to buy.

Unfortunately, as crazy as it sounds, most buyers approach buying a house in much the same way. They view a home, fall in love with the property and make a decision based on emotion rather than on logic. The strange thing is that those same buyers would never dream of adopting this approach when it came to buying a car, even though most vehicles cost a fraction of the price of a new home.

The word insane comes to mind, but if this were in fact the case, then a large majority of the South African property buying public could be classified as being mentally challenged. Sound a bit harsh? Probably, but there is undoubtedly an element of truth behind the statement.

Being caught off-guard or making a snap purchasing decision on a smaller, less expensive object is one thing; agreeing to buy a large item that cannot be easily returned or exchanged is quite another. While there may be those who argue that the Consumer Protection Act will safeguard their interests, no matter which way you look at it, trying to return a house that you have purchased on a whim is not going to be an easy exercise.

Perceptions are always dangerous and human nature being what it is, people will often assume that a more up-market home with a more up-market price tag won’t be plagued with faults. As was seen in the television broadcast, this is clearly not the case and anyone buying a home, regardless of how much they are paying, needs to ensure that they are getting what they paid for.

Surprisingly, the idea of using a home inspector to ascertain that every nook and cranny is checked for faults has never really taken off in this country. Home inspections are required by law in a number of US states and it appears that our American counterparts are far more aware of the importance of having a home inspected before buying, even when it is not a legal requirement.

One of the problems, it seems, is that South Africans assume that it costs a small fortune to utilise the services of a home inspector when, in actual fact, the costs involved are fairly low when one considers the money that could be saved.

Steve Kay, CEO of Home Inspection Services in Cape Town and a director of International Association of Certified Home Inspectors South Africa (INTERNACHISA), says that although costs will vary and are dependent on the inspector used, his company charges R3 000 for a property measuring up to 250m² and R15 per additional square metre if the property exceeds this size.

“I have been involved in this industry for 10 years and I have never inspected a home that was completely fault free. Although the defects vary dramatically, overall, the problem which occurs most frequently is dampness. This is not restricted to rising damp and while most people would assume that this is a problem that only presents itself in coastal properties, it is actually a common in South African homes all across the country.”

Kay also notes that while it is mainly those buying older homes who utilise his services, a home inspection on a brand new property is also absolutely vital. “Although the trend of using a home inspector to ensure that all is well is growing in popularity, we still find that only half those enquiring do so before they buy the home. Many only use our services once the deal has been signed.”

The above could indicate that too many buyers only call in the experts once they have moved in, discover the faults and need to determine the full extent of the problem. While the law may well be on the buyer’s side, it is worth remembering that legal issues take time to resolve and the new homeowner may well find himself in a position where he has to pay for costly repairs and hope that the courts will rule in his favour, helping him to recoup those costs at a much later stage.

The message is pretty clear. Call in the experts, have them go over the property with a fine tooth comb and get the whole picture, or remain blissfully ignorant until it is too late. The choice is yours.

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