Tips for a first time home-buyer

Having to find a home or start looking can be quite overwhelming, especially if it is your first time. As we have recently found a home and have quite a lot of friends looking for houses and not knowing where to start, I have decided to write a quick list on tips that worked for us.

Firstly, know what you want and what you can afford. Know where (areas) you want to live. Now after being sure of that you need to know that when you walk into a house you and your husband might just know this is our house, this is where we want to live and it might be nothing like what you imagined. That is fine. They say with a house you just know.


1. Write a list of what is important of the house, like number of rooms, garage, single or double level house. Safety, should it be near open fields, in a security complex or not. Should the house have a garden, swimming pool or not.

2. Determine areas where you want to live. I believe knowing in exactly what areas (or even greater just one area) you want to live help limit your search, you can more easily compare house prices as it varies between areas. Be firm with agents so that they know your preferred areas. We excluded several areas as we knew traffic is terrible to work out of them, in almost the same vicinity as we were looking in.  It was a constant battle to get agents to stop phoning about the areas we do not want to stay, I feel like it is ear and time pollution, only tell me about the ones I will be interested in as the whole process of searching for a house is draining.

3. Get yourself prepared online. In South Africa we have two main sites that most agents use and you will receive instant notifications if a house becomes available. You can create a profile and set up specifications of what you are looking for, this will eliminate most of what you are not interested in. The sites I enjoyed most is: Property24 and Private Property. You will find a lot of agents do not show a house is sold when it actually is. This is extremely annoying, it feels as if they just try to ‘catch’ you contacting them to get your contact details.

4. Google maps. Most agents do not give the address of the house and claims it is in a certain area. This is not true a lot of times, so before you get your hopes up after you have seen the ‘perfect house’ get the address. Agents may be hesitant to give the address to you as you can go directly to the house and make an offer and this cuts them out of the commission, but if they do take your details that should be enough information. Sometimes they want you to see the actual house as it is so great and they know it will be difficult to say no for the price, even though the area is not where you want to live. I always said (and this is the truth) I first want to check it out on Google maps, to see where the house sits, how the houses in the area looks etc and usually the agent will give the address.

5. Know the area. Find out what the plans are for the area if you find a potential house. For example there might be city plans to broaden or extend massive roads that will one day come by your house and your value will drop or your safety will be compromised. Drive the road to the potential house in peak hour traffic to work as you would do if you stayed there. A lot of suburban streets become ‘shorter’ routes to work for people dodging the traffic of the bigger roads – this might be just too much traffic right on your doorstep. Find out if there are big open fields what the plan is with them as you do not want a squatter camp to pop up over night.

6. It helps to give your details to agents as well as they let you know of ‘private’ show houses before other agents get access to a house and advertise it. A lot of times a house is sold even before it is properly advertised.

7. Find out what you can afford and also think what your 5 year and more long-term plan is, will you still be able to afford your house if life happens? Never get yourself into a position that you have no financial breathing space, you do not know what will happen in the future with prima rates etc. Get a pre-approved bond/loan, this usually is valid for 3 months. This give you a very good idea of what you can afford and what the house will cost you years down the line paying interest. It also give you a good bargaining tool with the agent and seller. Telling them you have pre-approved financing will let them know this will be a quick effortless sell. Lots of homes come back on the market when financing has been declined – it is best to avoid this as it must be a massive let down. Do bank ‘shopping’ as you get better interest rates and options at some banks and you do not necessarily have to bank with them.

8. Take someone with you that knows enough to see whether there are structural problems or water problems in the house. You can even get a certified company to do a complete check on the house if you feel worried.

9. Try and bargain on the lawyers costs. The seller can appoint the lawyer, if you know a lawyer that will charge a decent fee ask whether you can use them. If the seller refuses ask them that their lawyer at least meet your lawyer’s fee. This can save you a lot.

10. Do not get hasty. Take your time to find the perfect place if you can and you are not forced to move. Do not let agents try to scare you by saying they have offers and lots of people interested. It is part of their job, the more you pay the more commission they get, so remember that and make your choices like you normally will, not in a frenzy as you will later wonder whether you made the right choices.

11. Bargain. Most homes are placed in the market a little higher than the expected price. We found a lot of homes get sold for 10% less than advertised. We contacted the agents of houses we saw that got sold and asked what the actual price was that it got sold for, to teach us what homes really end up selling for in the areas we are looking at.

12. I forgot about this one nearly – do not go to show houses that you know from the start you are not interested in or are way too expensive. You are wasting your time and it is a tiresome process. It is nice to watch houses yes, but if you have a very busy lifestyle do not do it to yourself. You will also lose your heart on the one you cannot afford. We decided that I will first view a house as I am more full of nonsense. If I like the house I will let my husband know. Of all the houses we viewed together it felt like a waste of time. I viewed a few on my own and the one I phoned him to come view is the one we settled on. Make it as easy and convenient as possible for yourself.

This I think is the most important guidelines I can think about. Do enjoy the time searching for a house. As a first time house buyer my husband and myself learned so much about each other, it really was a good learning curve. Remember you are buying the house for you, you must be happy to live in it and possibly live in it for very long, so do not make irrational choices! All the best