How to avoid buying a money pit

Private Property South Africa
John Graham

If you're in the market to buy a new home, you need to do everything in your power to steer clear of buying a house which becomes a nightmare after you move in and you only then discover that the roof leaks, or there’s damp in the walls, or that the geyser installation is both dangerous and faulty.

Fortunately, there are many ways to avoid sinking your money into a money pit.

Leave your emotions at the door. Don't be taken in by things like a garden full of beautiful flowers. Same goes for shiny new kitchen appliances, or new tiles, or laminate flooring: Don't be wooed by the “wow” factor. If you have an unemotional attitude that you're prepared to walk away, then you'll be in a much better position to make an objective assessment of the house.

Home buyers should invest in the services of an independent and objective home inspector. The home inspector’s fee is only around 0.2% of the cost of the house. That’s a small price for a buyer to pay to make sure he doesn’t get stung.

Because most sale agreements in South Africa still contain a voetstoots (“as is”) clause, it is very important for the potential buyer to fully understand the actual “as is” condition of the house. This is best done by using the services of a professional home inspector.

A 'money pit' is a home where routine maintenance has been neglected over the years and which then has had insufficient or even dishonest, cosmetic maintenance performed to disguise the actual state of the house. A 'fixer-upper' is different. In a fixer-upper you can usually see the problems. In a money pit, the rot is just under the new paint.

Ask questions and be suspicious:

Be aware that all houses need ongoing maintenance. Ask questions, be slightly suspicious, trust your instincts, and hire an experienced home inspector. Do your due diligence.

Don't be fooled by simple cosmetic work. Just because a home comes with a fresh coat of paint and maybe a shiny new stove hob, this doesn't mean that the house is structurally sound. You could get landed with major, expensive repairs down the road. A home might have had a superficial facelift, but “hidden” systems like the drains, plumbing or wiring may be overdue for replacement.

Use your nose:

Be aware of any musty smells, especially in cupboards and other closed-in spaces. Bad smells can be a sure sign of damp, which should never be ignored.

Do your research:

Check that all of the structures on the property are actually on the approved municipal plans. If you are buying a sectional title property look at the condition of common areas - such as boundary walls, driveways, paving, roofs and exterior walls. Has the body corporate been doing regular maintenance or have things been allowed to slide? Does the prospect of a special levy loom? Also take a look at the body corporate’s financial statements. If possible, talk to current owners or tenants.

Look at the grounds:

It's important to look at the entire property. If there are fences falling down, or if a boundary wall is cracked and failing, or if paving has collapsed, this could cost many thousands of Rands to replace. Find out who owns the fence or wall and whose responsibility it is to replace or repair it.

Be especially careful about outside entertaining areas:

Often, decks and swimming pools have been built without permits and don't meet safety requirements. Decks carry a huge legal liability for the home owner and must be constructed to handle large groups of people and the activities that come with that during the summer months.

Check out drainage issues

HouseCheck inspectors find that a great many problems in South African homes are caused by poor site drainage and badly planned or non-existent storm water management. Damp, flooded houses, damaged foundations and cracked walls are often the result of poor drainage.

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