Buying a house: Learnings

When I was 21 I watched the movie/documentary about The Secret and although I didn’t finish it because I found it rather boring one of my key take-outs from the book was that if you want something you need to write it down, think about it often, work towards it and one day it will be yours.

One of the things I have been working towards since I was 18, is owning my own house, somewhere to be safe, comfortable and able to call home. I know that a lot of people dream about this and never actually see it become a reality, and I am thankful every day that I have found my little bit of the planet to call my own and that my dream starter house was in my budget.

I am doing this house buying this totally alone (my immediate family all live in Zimbabwe and know nothing about financing a house because in Zimbabwe, “if you don’t have cash for it, you don’t have it). With no immediate family to look out for my best interests, I have had to rely very heavily on the internet and my good old pal Google.  I have been very lucky that I have amazing extended family and friends who have been so helpful and supportive with taking this step into house ownership. There is just so much that I did not factor in because I had no idea, and I hope this little blog post helps you when you embark on your house buying journey.

Save up

A friend of mine once told me,  “If you don’t have 400k saved, then don’t even think about buying a house”. I probably took his advice too seriously, but I am happy to report that you do not need 400k saved before you even start buying a house, I sure as hell know I did not have that much saved. You do need to be saving though the amount you put away does not matter but you need to be putting money aside every month.  I started saving from the age of 18 with my first au pair job, it wasn’t easy and I don’t want everyone to think that I have been able to buy this house because I take home a fat paycheck (I don’t, it’s very much industry related), I want you to know that if you save and are responsible you to can buy a place of your own. It’s really easy for first time home owners to get a 100% bond on your first house when you have a deposit – which is why it is so important to save, save, save.

Ask questions till you are blue in the face

My poor estate agent probably hates getting emails from me, I have asked him so many questions sometimes two or three times because I didn’t understand the first time. I want to know everything, I have to know everything because this will be one of the biggest purchases and financial commitments that I will ever make in my life.

Get a second pair of eyesI

When you find your house (you will know when you first see it, trust me on that) you need to get someone else to look at it and see that you are making a good decision. I was so star struck with my house that I would have signed the papers right there and then, but I was advised against that and rather had some friends who had a background in building and engineering to ask all the “boy questions” that I hadn’t thought to. I am so glad I did that, I hadn’t noticed that my kitchen didn’t have an oven, yes… I didn’t notice that there was no oven in my freaking kitchen because I was just so in awe of my little slice of heaven in Joburg (also I don’t list cooking as one of my skills in this life)

Use your bargaining power

The price that the house is on the market for, is not that actual price you will end up paying for it. You can negotiate. Much like dating you need to play the game to make sure you aren’t taken for a ride (actually that is useless dating advice – don’t listen to that)

Costs you may not know about

Insurance will kill you, then when you think you are dying financially you will find out about another cost that will put you even deeper in your grave. I suggest using a very good lawyer who will guide you through the whole process, I am lucky enough to have a great friend who is also a brilliant lawyer (choose your friends carefully), so if you are looking for a conveyancer get hold of Leanne at Gerhold & Van Wyk Attorneys. Leanne is going to put me in touch with people to help me do my rates and taxes, she also answered all my really stupid questions and calmed me down during a panic attack where I thought I had missed an important payment date and had lost my house.

Research the area in which you are buying

I have bought in an “up and coming” area in Johannesburg that is about 5/6km away from all the places that I aspire to live in but are just out of my price bracket (Parkhurst, Craighall Park, Houghton because I have champagne taste on a beer budget – ok more like a GnT budget but still).  I know like 80% of the stuff there is to know about my area, like where the closest shops are, how long it will take me to get to work and what traffic is like (it’s awful but that is Joburg,  not my area). I also looked at what prices houses in the area were going for an should I want to sell my house in the future, I am 100% sure I will make a profit unless you know the world ends or something.

Ask about your complex’s financials

You are going to be paying levies if you have bought a house in a complex (which is true for most first time buyers) make sure that the complex’s financial statements are up to date and have an adequate reserve (this is to ensure that there is enough money if you geyser bursts or your roof breaks or there are any structural issues that need to be fixed, those don’t come out of your pocket, they come out of the levies – I think this only applies to sectional titles like I have bought but it is something you need to look into and be aware of)

Find out the rules of the complex

I didn’t check this before I made an offer, but the rules of my complex are pretty good and are in line with everything that I want out of a place where I will be living. In this case, the complex allows animals which is basically the only thing I want in this world. I don’t want to live somewhere that doesn’t allow me to have a dog. No dog = No life I want to live.

Make sure there is connectivity

We live in a digital age, if your house doesn’t give you great cell phone reception and isn’t yet set up for internet connectivity then that is a huge problem.  You need to make sure that were you live is not a black hole of internetless.

That’s all the info I can think of sharing at this time, I only move into my place on the 5th of July and I am sure there will be updates to this as I learn new things and find out more information because you really can’t know it all, but I thought I would share with you all the things I have learnt thus far so you can learn from me and not make any huge mistakes because sadly a mistake when buying a house will leave you in financial ruin.

Don’t be scared of buying, I am doing this all alone with no help from my parents financially or emotionally (mostly because they live in another country and have less knowledge about buying in South Africa than even I do). If I can do this, then trust me being able to buy a house is not out of your reach either.



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