As a new buyer on the market, it can be very tempting to dive straight into the show house circuit, but a little preparation can go a long way towards finding that perfect home. Bill Rawson, Chairman of the Rawson Property Group, shares his tips on house hunting for a property that lives up to all your hopes and dreams.
Be realistic about your needs and priorities
“There’s a lot more to defining your needs than choosing the right neighbourhood and the number of bedrooms, bathrooms and parking spots you’d like,” says Rawson. “You also need to consider things like realistic budgets, lifestyle choices and future needs.”
When setting a budget, Rawson recommends avoiding your maximum spending capacity, leaving a healthy financial buffer to cover repairs and maintenance, moving expenses, and any future interest rate increases. He also stresses the importance of being honest with yourself about your spending behaviour, lifestyle choices and needs.
“There’s no point buying a home for the person you wish you were, instead of the person you are,” he says. “If you struggle to save, acknowledge that and be conservative on your mortgage. If you love green spaces, but have a black thumb avoid high maintenance gardens unless you can afford a gardener. You may dream of being a DIY fundi, but unless you actually have some aptitude for renovation management or handiwork, buying a fixer-upper is not going to make you happy.”
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan for any growth or lifestyle changes at all, however. Looking to the future is essential for long-term investments like property.
“It’s definitely important to consider future needs as well as those of the present,” says Rawson. “That could mean choosing a good school district in spite of the fact that you don’t yet have children, or looking for work from home facilities to give you future flexibility in your career. I always recommend thinking at least five to ten years ahead and ensuring the properties you view can accommodate your life plan.”
Use an estate agent
Once you’ve defined the essential features you’ll be looking for in a property, and have narrowed down your search area to a few suburbs that tick the right boxes, it’s time to get in touch with an estate agent active in the area.
“Buyers are often surprised that I advise using an agent, rather than scouring online property portals to find potential homes,” says Rawson. “What they don’t realise is that many of the best properties never make it to these public platforms before they sell. By going directly to an agent and sharing your requirements, you can be first in line when a suitable home hits the market. That can be very valuable when you’re competing against other buyers with similar needs.”
Don’t be fooled by aesthetics
Humans are visual creatures, and we all judge books by their covers to some degree, but Rawson warns against giving superficial aesthetics too much weight in your property decisions.
“It’s easy to be won over by a particularly stylish property, or be put off by a home that’s décor isn’t to your personal taste,” says Rawson, “but be careful not to let aesthetics blind you to the bigger picture. Don’t compromise on your essentials, but remember that new furniture and a coat of paint can go a very long way towards transforming an ugly duckling into a swan. Pretty finishes and trendy designs also don’t guarantee a problem-free, well-maintained home.”
Look a little deeper
There’s nothing worse than getting your hopes up only to discover a heap of expensive problems underneath the surface of what you thought was your dream home. To avoid ending up in this situation, Rawson suggests looking a little deeper when viewing a property with an agent.
“Don’t be shy to really look under the hood, so to speak,” says Rawson. “Open doors and windows, look into corners and cupboards, check under sinks and in roof spaces and feel the walls for damp. Feel free to ask questions about a home’s maintenance history as well, although the seller’s agent may need to get back to you on that if they don’t have the information on hand.”
Of course, it’s important to be respectful if you hope to make an offer down the line, so try to keep your investigations as polite and non-judgemental as possible.
“You don’t want to alienate the seller or their agent,” says Rawson, “but you also don’t want to spend time and money making an offer and having a professional home inspection done if you could have spotted a deal-breaker problem yourself, early on.”
Use a checklist
There are countless things to look out for, check up on, and consider when viewing a home, and it’s easy to overlook things in the heat of the moment. To help you track all the details and make sure you don’t miss anything important, Rawson recommends using a pro-house-hunter’s secret weapon: a checklist!
“A good checklist will list every aspect you’ll want to take note of relating to a property,” says Rawson, “from the neighbourhood to interior and exterior features, security, maintenance, ambiance and possible questions to ask the owner or agent. Using the same checklist for all the properties you view allows you to compare apples to apples when making a decision, and ensures you don’t miss an important factor that will have you kicking yourself down the line.”
Don’t give up!
This may be the most important part of any successful house hunt.
“It’s easy to get disheartened when you’re not finding what you want, or your offer hasn’t been accepted,” says Rawson, “but remember: the next home you see could be the one that’s meant for you. Keep looking, keep trying, and keep in touch with your agent. It may take some time, but your new home is out there, waiting for you.”