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Build or Buy - The Pros and Cons

Aspiring home buyers know that buying a home is not just a huge financial decision but also an emotional one.

Most people spend months – if not years – imagining their perfect home before they start looking and are often disappointed when nothing on the market quite compares to what they had in mind. The only guaranteed way to get exactly what you’re looking for in a property is to build your dream home from scratch – but that comes with a whole lot of problems of its own.

So what’s better – to compromise and buy an existing home, or go the whole hog and create your ideal space from the ground up? As with most things in life, there are pros and cons to both options, and a lot depends on your personal preferences and, of course, your budget.

“There’s little doubt that buying an existing home is the quicker and more convenient option,” says Tony Clarke, managing director of the Rawson Property Group. “It may take time to find something you really love, and you might have to live with a few details that aren’t quite perfect, but with the help of a good estate agent and a little bit of luck, you could be unpacking in your new home in just a few months.”

Clarke says existing homes are also usually more cost-effective than building from scratch, especially when you take into consideration the side benefits of a properly cared-for, lived-in property.

“Things like an established garden are a huge plus that would take years and thousands of rands to set up from scratch. Smaller things like existing built-in appliances and window blinds can also save you a lot of money when you move in.”

There are some other potential downsides to buying an existing home, apart from compromising on the details, however. You never know quite how well former owners have maintained things, and there is always the chance that you could discover problems that need to be fixed down the line.

“The Consumer Protection Act does give buyers some recourse against latent defects,” says Clarke, “but it’s a good idea to have a professional home inspection done before you buy to help prevent nasty surprises.”

If you decide to build instead of buy, you have the comfort of knowing that everything in your home will be brand new, from the windows and doors to the paint on the walls, to the shiny new taps, toilets and basins. That means no weird stains, no ugly colours, and no musty old carpets. It doesn’t, however, mean that everything will work as it should.

New houses are definitely not exempt from hidden defects. Unlike an existing home, however, nobody else will have had a chance to discover them first.

“It’s not uncommon for new houses to have plumbing, wiring, and even waterproofing or structural problems,” says Clarke, “so make sure to use a reputable builder, and have provision in your contract for the repair of any latent defects.”

Defects aside, building a new house does mean that you’re much more likely to get exactly what you want. There are rules and restrictions on sites, so you will need to work within those, but a good architect and builder can make your dream home a reality.

Building from scratch also means you can take advantage of modern advances like energy-efficient designs, materials, and equipment. This will often cost less than retrofitting the same features in an existing building, and can be tailored seamlessly into the design.

In most other respects building a new home is, unfortunately, comparatively expensive. You have the cost of the site (which may need clearing or demolition), the cost of the building itself, and the cost of all the fittings and finishes – not to mention the professional fees for your architect and/or building inspector.

“You’ll be surprised at how quickly things add up,” says Clarke, “and building projects are notorious for getting over-budget very fast.”

You’ll also need to prepare for the fact that that’s about the only thing that’s likely to happen fast. Taking into account the design process, getting council approval, and the time spent on the site, building a home could take anywhere from six months to over a year to be completed.

There’s no doubt that building your own home can be the ultimate source of satisfaction, but it can also be an expensive, time-consuming option, fraught with potential pitfalls. Likewise, buying an existing home can be filled with frustration, but it can also be an exciting journey to discover a good fit at a great price.

Whatever your personal preference, always use an experienced professional to help guide you through the process. It makes a huge difference having an expert on your side.


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