6 min read

10 Essential Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

Explore the top tips you need to know as a first-time homebuyers in South Africa – covering everything from budgeting and property research to the buying process.
Nick Pawson
· July 5, 2024
10 Essential Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

Buying your first home is an exciting step into a new life stage, but it's easy to be overwhelmed by the associated admin.

To compound matters, South Africans are tightening their belts amidst a cost-of-living crisis.

Things are looking up though, according to South Africa's leading bond originators. The latest property data shows a 4.2% quarter-on-quarter increase in home loan applications at the start of Q2 2024.

These homeowners are likely to tell you that preparedness is everything in the property-purchasing process. For those first-time buyers who don't know where to start, we've compiled a list of things to consider before you sign on the dotted line.

(We will also be using the words home loan, bond and mortgage interchangeably.)

1. Check your credit score and review your budget

Before buying a home, it's crucial to get a clear picture of your financial health. Start by reviewing your debts and savings to see what you can afford.

Credit scores play a central role in whether or not bonds are approved.

Most banks offer a free and easy credit-score checking tool, while you’re also eligible for one free credit report a year. If you don't have a credit history, consider applying for a credit card or even a vehicle loan - making sure you meet your monthly repayment deadlines.

2. Save for a deposit

First time home buyers tips Before starting your home buying journey, have you saved up for a substantial deposit? Most banks require a sizeable deposit before approving your home loan, as this demonstrates your commitment to the property transaction.

Unless you have the luxury of purchasing your first home for cash, you'll need a home loan to cover the remaining portion of the purchase price (if not the whole amount.)

Typically for a deposit, you should aim to save at least 10% of the purchase price.

It's important to remember that the price of a first home is not just the purchase price, but involves other 'hidden' costs, which are discussed in more detail below. Taking these costs into account will also help you work out your affordability range.

3. Get a pre-approved bond

Getting bond pre-approval before you start house hunting will help manage your expectations of what you can afford for a first home.

Once approved, it strengthens your bargaining power and also puts the seller's mind at ease knowing that you qualify for the offer amount.

You can apply for a pre-approval letter with your bank, or through other service providers like bond originators.

Fun fact: Based on the latest home-loan data, during the 12 months to May 2024 Johannesburg’s south-eastern suburbs were the most popular region for first-time homebuyers. Right behind in joint second position were Johannesburg’s north-western suburbs and the Western Cape.

4. Location, location, location

If you have your heart set on a particular neighbourhood, it's worth spending some time researching the area and understanding the local market trends. Make sure you look at the average sales price of homes in the area and that the sale price of your first home aligns with that.

You also want to consider the community and whether it will suit your lifestyle. Look at things like transport options, nearby schools, crime statistics, your nearest shopping mall and other conveniences.

Remember, you always have the option to change something you don’t like about a property, but you cannot do anything about the location.

5. Keep those house plans handy

These days, most banks will ask for house plans before approving your mortgage. In this regard you need to ensure that the approved plans of the house match the structure of what you’re buying.

This includes separate structures like garages and cottages. Banks will want to know that these structures are built legally and also conform to zoning laws.

If you're buying your first home off-plan (buying a new home directly from a developer before it’s built), house plans also help banks accurately assess the value of the property.

6. Hire an agent you can trust

A knowledgeable real estate agent (particularly one who's on the pulse of the local buyer’s market) can be a real asset as you navigate first-time homebuyer territory.

Agents are responsible for scheduling viewings and negotiating on your behalf as you find the best deal. They can also help you understand the fine print of the offer-to-purchase agreement before you sign it.

Ensure your chosen agent is someone you trust in the community, that has your best interests at heart. It's a real time-saver.

Real Estate Agents for First time buyers

7. Insist on a thorough home inspection

Before finalising the purchase of your first home, have a professional do a home inspection. They will be able to uncover any defects on the property.

In South African real estate, most sale agreements feature a voetstoots clause. This is where you, the buyer, agree to accept the property in its present condition.

This clause protects the seller against claims for damages, whether latent or patent. However, it can backfire if it is discovered that certain defects were intentionally concealed. Voetstoots also has to abide by certain provisions in the Consumer Protection Act.

That's why it’s now common practice — and a legal requirement — for both you and the seller to complete a disclosure form after thoroughly inspecting the property. This disclosure form lists all identified defects in a property and can be used if any disputes arise over hidden defects later on.

8. Account for closing (and hidden) costs

As mentioned before, buying a first home involves some 'hidden' costs. This includes bond registration costs, property transfer costs, levies and special levies if you're buying a sectional title home.

You should also look at what you're likely to pay for rates and taxes, in addition to your monthly bond repayment.

Property transfer fees are the hidden cost that will sting the most and must be paid to SARS within six months of the property transfer. If the seller is VAT registered, you will pay VAT instead of transfer duty.

9. Consider the long game with mortgage and resale

If you can afford it, to reduce the overall cost of your mortgage you can opt for a mortgage with a shorter term.

This implies higher monthly payments, but it also means that you will own the property sooner, and save a lot of money on interest.

One of the most significant advantages of homeownership is building equity. With each mortgage payment, you are gradually increasing your ownership stake in the property.

Another thing to consider is the future resale value of your new home, so look for properties with features that may be appealing to others if and when it’s time to sell.

10. Get ready for bidding wars

The homebuying process can be unpredictable in a competitive market. It's important to remain flexible throughout and be prepared to compromise.

In this environment, focus on staying calm and sticking to your budget. It isn't worth overstretching yourself.

With that said, if you're ready to take the plunge to become a first-time homeowner - don't delay!

Signs are emerging that point to a new growth phase in residential property market activity in South Africa. During April and May, average home purchase prices increased by 6.9% year-on-year for first-time buyers compared to Q2 2023, signalling a growing demand for homes.

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