Get to the ‘real deal’ by asking the right questions

If you’ve just been through a home on show and are keen to buy it, there are some questions you should definitely ask before you sign any offer to purchase.

“Don’t worry too much about the paint colours or who’s going to move the junk in the garage,” says Jan Davel, MD of the RealNet estate agency group. “That can come later when and if you actually decide to buy. First you need clarity on a few more basic issues, starting with the condition of the property.

“And you should never be shy to ask whether there are any known problems. No home is perfect and since most properties in SA are sold “as is”, you have a right to know what to expect. The agent who is marketing the property should be able to give you a disclosure document listing any faults that the seller is aware of, and you should take pictures of the problem areas and factor the price of any needed repairs or renovations into your offer.”

Next, he says, you should ask about the age of the property. Some homes have been updated with new appliances, flooring or paint that’s clearly visible, but it’s a good idea to establish the age of the roof, for example, or the plumbing and wiring which can’t easily be seen.

“Then third, we suggest you ask some questions about ownership costs such as local rates and taxes, and what the current owners pay for municipal services such as electricity and water every month. These costs may make a difference as to whether you can afford this property or not.”

In addition, says Davel, you should ask the agent and / or the sellers all about the local amenities such as shops, restaurants, schools and public transport, and about the security of the area. “This can tell you a lot about the neighbourhood. If the residents are genuinely proud of what it offers and how safe it is, the chances are good that you will like it too.

“However, you shouldn’t forget to also ask about the neighbours, because whether they are youngsters who throw parties nearly every weekend, families who generally just mind their own business or senior citizens who are nearly all retired, it’s going to have an impact on your lifestyle. People are usually happier if they’re surrounded by others that they get along with and are at a similar stage in life.

“Besides, this may also be your cue to find out why the current owners are selling the property – and what difference that might make to the price they are willing to accept. For example, they might be sad about leaving a great community but have to move for work reasons, and be under some pressure to conclude a sale within a certain time.”

On the other hand, he says, they may have retirement in mind but be in no immediate hurry to move, in which case they will probably be less keen to negotiate. “Which brings us to the last questions you need to ask the agent on show day – that is, how long the property has been on the market already, and whether any other offers have been made?  

“If a property has been listed for a long time, or the price has already been reduced, or a previous offer has fallen through, you probably have room for some further negotiation. But if it was only recently listed and has already attracted other offers, you will probably need to act fast and not argue too much if you really feel it’s the home you want.”

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