Finding a home

What to Look for When Buying a House

Know What You Can Afford

In this article, we will scope some of the do’s and dont’s of  house-hunting. Before you start house-hunting, decide on the category that best suits you. This will define your personal strategy around the home loan and the cashflow you will need to buy and create your dream home. 

Your buying strategy considerations include:

  • Price
  • Neighbourhood
  • Aesthetics
  • Structure
  • Refurbishment 
  • Property Features
  • Your needs now and in the future

Know What You Can Afford

Before starting to house-hunt, you need to compile a budget. Key factors in calculating affordability are: 

  • Monthly income – income helps you establish a baseline for what you can afford to pay every month.
  • Cash reserves – this is money you have available to pay a deposit and cover conveyancing costs either from savings, investments or etc.
  • Debt and expenses –  Credit cards, car payments, student loans, groceries, insurance, etc.
  • Credit profile – Your credit score and the amount of debt you have. These factors help determine how much money you can borrow and the mortgage interest rate you will earn.

Use our bond Affordability Calculator and our Repayment Calculator to obtain a realistic idea of what you can afford. 

With this information and your budget list, you are now ready to search for your perfect home.

Important home features to consider

House-hunting is not for the faint-hearted and is often the biggest investment and lifestyle decision you will make in your life. 

Buyers need to evaluate the features of each house for those which are of importance to them and their lifestyle now, and in the future, such as:

  • Price 
  • Air conditioning
  • Number of bedrooms
  • Number of bathrooms
  • Outdoor space
  • Square feet
  • Floor plan/layout
  • Safety considerations (burglar bars, alarm system, etc) which are very NB for SA market!

Some features will be more important for some buyers than others, depending on their life situation, personal preference etc. It will be best for each buyer to compile a list of personal requisites to use when evaluating each home.


  • Don’t be put off by the current décor, ambience or colour palette that does not match your taste. You are buying the house and will make it your home.
  • Do pay attention to the architecture and space. Size does count. Architecture and space will determine your user experience. Changing the architecture or enlarging rooms can be expensive and sometimes structurally impossible.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Peeling paint, tatty carpets, dated tiles, nicks and scratches are worth overlooking. They are easy fixes and often an opportunity for you to add your own style and taste.
  • Do look for clues of fatal and expensive flaws. A poorly maintained roof, rising damp, structural, electrical and plumbing problems can be expensive.
  • Don’t assume it is a good or bad asking price.
  • Do your background research. Research asking and selling prices in your desired area/s.  In particular, if you are buying in a complex or gated estate, research the recent selling prices within these territories.

Be realistic and be thorough in your evaluation of each property. You don’t want any nasty surprises after purchasing your new home!

Important neighbourhood features to consider

Buyers will also need to evaluate features about each of the neighbourhoods they are considering. Here are some factors to consider when determining the suitability of an area:

Safety: Is the area known to have a high crime rate?  How safe is the neighbourhood? Is it boomed off? Is there security patrolling of the streets? 

Walkability: Will it be possible and safe to go walking, to ride bicycles or to walk your dogs around the neighbourhood streets safely?

Neighbourhood aesthetics: Is the area well-kept, are the local parks well-maintained, does litter lie around on the streets, are there derelict properties, or have local businesses closed down?

Amenities: Is the property in close proximity to shops, schools, medical facilities and your leisure activities? 

Travel: Will a move to this neighbourhood mean extra travel time and distance to work or schools, or to visit loved ones, which might mean you will incur extra costs. 

Buyers need to investigate the safety and all-round suitability of their proposed new neighbourhood by day and by night for sound peace-of-mind. 

Assess the property condition

Here are some of the important conditions of the particular house / property that the buyer needs to look at:

Roof: How neatly and flatly do the tiles lie? Are any cracked? Does the flashing appear old and faded? Are the gutters blocked, broken or requiring a coat of paint.  Look inside the house at the ceiling for any signs of leakage!

Electrics: an Electricity Compliance certificate should ease your mind on this. But ensure that any repairs or issues reported have subsequently been attended to by the seller. All lights, both inside and outside, should be tested and working.

Doors and windows: ensure these all open and lock securely and do not rattle. There should be keys for each door. Burglar guards and security gates should be sturdy and well-fitted.

Security: ask to see how this works to ensure it’s in good working order.

Walls: look for signs of cracks or damp especially where there are spots of paint which appear new as these may be to disguise problems. 

Drainage: there may be poor drainage areas in the garden or outside the house

Plumbing: check that the plumbing is in good working order by turning on the taps and flushing the loos – and in the domestic accommodation. Check for any leaks too.

Floors: look for broken tiles, weakened floorboards or flooring and any bad stains or marks – these may be covered by loose rugs or carpets

Pool: is it sparkling and do both the pump and pool cleaner work properly?

Irrigation system: ask to test this to see if it is in good and effective working order?

Additional factors to consider

Here are some additional factors to consider when evaluating  a property:

  • Don’t waste your show-day time and effort.
  • Do make the most of these visits and note savvy ideas for your new home.
  • Don’t be short-sighted.
  • Do be future-forward. It is expensive to buy and sell. Agent commission, legal fees, transfer duty, moving and other costs can incur 15% or more each time you buy and sell. Think at least, R150 000.00 for each R 1 million. Consider your medium and long-term requirements especially when you are planning on a new or growing family. What is good for a baby is not necessarily good for a toddler or a preschooler.
  • Don’t be lured by a better but cheaper property in a less desirable neighbourhood. 
  • Do consider neighbourhoods with safety as a priority and their close proximity to schools if you have children.
  • Don’t be tempted to over-spend.
  • Do be realistic about your budget, including both purchase price and refurbishment costs. Mortgage interest rates could increase, and the job market could change. Make sure you can afford to enjoy your home in the best and worst of times.


Each and every buyer has their own “wish-list” which is very personal to them. Before you start your house-hunt, compile your own and be willing to make small compromises.  

If you are the “move-in ready” or “fit for purpose” buyer, make sure the home you are buying ticks all your boxes.

If you are the “instant makeover” buyer, be realistic about the time, money and inconvenience factors to do what needs doing and to fulfil your desires. 

If you are the “fixer-upper” buyer and willing to wait,  you can be less discerning when it comes to your wish-list but you should be aware of the more expensive renovations that will require a savings plan along with your monthly mortgage commitments to make it happen.

Have your own “wish-list” but do try to meet as many of your needs as possible, so you don’t find yourself needing to sell and buy again too quickly.

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