To some people, buying a ‘fixer-upper' seems like a dream proposition and for others, it’s the only option their budgets will allow. However, even though older homes often have great character features that most new homes don’t have, they can also be the stuff of nightmares if buyers aren’t careful.
“Estate agents will often recommend buying the worst property in the best area and in many instances, they are correct. You are likely to get a better return on investment once you have renovated,” says Claude McKirby, Co-Principal for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs and False Bay.
“It also allows you entry into a stronger market and a better neighbourhood than you might be able to otherwise afford so that when the time comes to upgrade, you are on a far better footing all round.”
He lists other compelling advantages of buying an older property:
But, unless you know what to look for in an older home, these benefits can come at a much higher price than you are willing – or able – to pay, in terms of money, time and stress.
Cobus Odendaal, CEO of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Johannesburg and Randburg, says: “Buying a home can be overwhelming and with so much information overload during a viewing, especially if we’ve fallen head over heels in love with a property, it’s very possible to miss important details and to forget to ask the important questions.
“And whilst certain imperfections may not be perceived as ‘problems’ by all buyers, with many being happy to fix small issues once they have moved in, there are several issues that cannot be overlooked.”
Odendaal suggests making a list of factors to check and questions to ask before you view a property so that you can make an informed decision based on facts rather than emotion.
Buying a home in a suburb that is deteriorating or that has increasing criminal activity can be a costly mistake and significantly diminish return on investment. Look for signs such as boarded up properties and a high number of vacant homes or shops in the area.
McKirby adds that it’s not only the big issues that can cause headaches and, although certainly not dire, there are several potential hiccups that can cause significant stress and add to the bills at the end of the day.
“It’s important to ensure that the pool isn’t leaking and having the seller say the pool is only topped up once a week isn’t enough, especially with older properties, so check the water bill and, if necessary, ask for a structural soundness report on the pool.
“Poor water pressure can also be an issue because cursing your way through your morning shower because your home's plumbing just isn't up to scratch is no way to start the day – every day.
“Also, if there is a wood-burning fireplace, find out what the extraction is like as you don’t want to smoke out your family when trying to keep them warm in winter.
“And you will be more than a little frustrated if most of your oversized furniture won’t fit through the narrow front door – and you know longer have French doors to throw open for moving large items in and out.”
It’s also important to understand the difference between an old and a heritage home if you are planning extensive renovations.
“The general rule of thumb is that homes built before 1990 are considered older homes,” says McKirby, “and if it’s older than 60 years it could well be a heritage property in which case there might be significant restrictions regarding the alterations you are allowed to make to the property.”
“If you are in any doubt, rather commission a professional property inspection before you put in an offer to purchase,” says Odendaal.
“An old house may come with work, but if the basics are sound, it can also be a sound investment. Just make sure you understand exactly what you're signing up for before going through with that purchase.”