Headaches of buying a golden oldie

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Cape Town - Buying an older property can offer great value, but there are factors to look for and look out for before you sign on the dotted line.

During times of short supply in the residential housing market such as there is at the moment, prospective buyers are being forced to adapt their wish lists. Those adaptions will quite often require property renovations.

People buy old, unrenovated homes for three reasons.

In the case of period homes, new owners will often want to restore the properties to their former glory.

If not, they’ll either buy a property for the erf’s location, knock all or most of the house down and rebuild a home that suits their taste, or buy to renovate.

The former is easy, provided you check that the property isn’t protected under historical preservation legislation.

Buying to renovate, however, poses a much more complex challenge, and one that can prove disastrous if the buyer doesn’t pay due care and attention to what they’re buying.

Older buildings can offer great value, but their unique period features can load the sale price as evidenced in historical suburbs like Constantia and the Cape Town City Bowl.

“Some of the biggest margins I’ve seen have come from the old-exterior, modern-interior combination. If you’re prepared to tackle a project on that scale, it’s a renovator’s dream,” says Claude McKirby, southern suburbs area principal for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty.

There are a myriad of things to take into account when buying any building that has stood for 30 years or more.

First and foremost is structural integrity. It can be tempting to think that if it’s stood for this long, it must be well built. This couldn’t be further than the truth, particularly if the owners haven’t kept up the maintenance.

Rotting woodwork can be a threat in some areas and bad foundations are rarer, but much more costly.

The potential headaches caused by structural problems are so severe that it’s worth appointing a professional engineer to conduct a thorough analysis of the building.

Engineers should be able to point out any looming problems and advise prospective buyers on the ease and cost of fixing them.

“Remember that what might be an avoidable problem now could easily become a serious one once renovations start, especially when serious structural changes, such as walls or second storeys, are involved,” says Sally Fidler, Bergvliet and Meadowridge area specialist for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty.

Infrastructure is another important consideration, notably electricity and plumbing.

Consult with the seller if he or any of the previous owners have done any work to the plumbing system because replacing pipes and adding extra geysers or solar heating will need to be incorporated into the plans and costs of the renovation.

In terms of electricity, the older the house, the more likely that it will be unsuitable for modern requirements - it could even pose a fire hazard.

In both these cases, get the property assessed by a professional prior to making an offer.

“Once you have a solid idea of what the total costs of renovation are likely to be, you can make an informed offer that will give you the financial flexibility to undertake these adjustments and additions,” says Leonie Wosk, Fidler’s sales partner in Meadowridge and Bergvliet.

“It may take a little longer to get your dream home if you go the renovation route, but if you have your heart set on a specific suburb and there are simply no suitable properties to be found, it’s a serious option for potential buyers.”

 - Fin24

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