Top tips for buying a newly-built home

An increasing number of SA homebuyers are electing to buy newly-built rather than pre-owned homes, and there are a number of very good reasons for doing so, says Shaun Rademeyer, CEO of SA’s leading mortgage originator BetterLife Home Loans.

“For most buyers, the most important of these is the cash they save because there is no transfer duty payable on homes bought directly from a developer or builder. Instead, VAT is assumed to be included in the purchase price – provided of course that the developer is registered as a VAT vendor.”

Another big plus, he says, is that new property developments by established building or development companies are often “pre-approved” by a lender, making it much easier for prospective buyers in these projects to obtain home loans.    

“In addition, residential developers often give buyers the opportunity to choose their own fittings and finishes, and sometimes even the chance to customise the layout of their new home and garden to suit their own needs.

“And on top of that, new homes in SA come with certain structural guarantees and must comply with certain ‘green’ design and building principles that make them more eco-friendly and energy-efficient – all of which translates into less maintenance and long-term savings for their owners.”

However, Rademeyer notes, there are also quite a few potential pitfalls that those who are considering a newly-built home need to avoid if they want their home-buying experience to be as exciting and fulfilling as it should be. These include:

*Deposit scams when buying “off-plan”. Anyone can print a fancy brochure full of floorplans and attractive pictures. But you should never sign an offer to purchase a home that has yet to be built unless you have seen the land where it will be built and established that the developer has a good reputation, is registered with the National Home Builders Registration Council and has a track record of successfully completed projects.

In addition, you must make sure that any deposit you are asked to pay is going into the trust account of an attorney or any estate agent so you will not lose your money if something goes wrong with the development or the building company.

*Long-term developments. It can be exciting and financially rewarding to be one of the first owners in a new development. But you need to know that the project will be finished and fully-developed within a reasonable period. If there are 50 stands, for example, and only 20 homes have been built in the development in the past five years, that is not a good sign and you should probably give it a miss unless the developer can prove to you that the other 30 stands have now been sold and that building on them will be completed within the next few months.

Otherwise you could find yourself living on a “building site” for several years, and unable to sell because the levy income from a handful of owners is insufficient to provide the type of security and the additional facilities that were promised.

*Too many “extras” and upgrades. Check your plans and building contract very carefully before you sign for a newly-built home to see exactly what building materials, equipment, fittings and finishes are included in the specifications – and what else would be regarded as “extra” for which you would have to pay an additional amount.

Do not make the mistake of assuming that all the top-of-the-line finishes that you see in the developer’s show-home will automatically be included in your home – or that the rooms in your home will be the same size. A whole lot of the features you like most may not actually be included in the basic contract, and including them could put the home beyond your budget.

In addition, if you do decide to opt for upgrades, you should not just accept a whole package. Consider each item to see if you really need it or could live without it, and make everything you choose is individually specified in your building contract along with its price.

*No completion or handover date. Your contract must contain a date by which your new home will be finished and ready for occupation – or by which, if it is not finished, you will be entitled to cancel the contract and get all the money back that you have paid so far, including the deposit and any progress payments made to a builder.

If it does not contain this clause, you could find yourself at the mercy of a builder who is taking years to finish the project while you make bond repayments on a home you cannot occupy.

*No provision to rectify problems. Even newly-built homes can have faults – and whether it is a cracked tile or a major water leak, you should not have to live with it or pay to get it fixed before you’ve even unpacked. So you must make sure that your building contract says you will have a certain number of days after taking occupation to draw up a “snag” list of defects for the developer or builder to fix before you finally sign the Occupation Certificate. You should also retain the right to call in an independent and professional home inspector to help you at this point, especially if this is your first home purchase.

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