Questions to ask your estate agent
South Africans spend more than R500-million a month on estate agent commissions. If you are a home buyer then follow these tips to make sure you ask the right questions and get your money’s worth:
Ask: How long has this house been on the market?
This is a very important question and one that will indicate how desirable the property is. If it’s been on for more than six months, you need to ask yourself what’s stopping it selling.
Ask: Is there room for price negotiation?
This helps if you are on a tight budget, but it is also a question which could highlight potential problems. If the seller is quick to meet your demands and accept a lower price, then listen for those alarm bells. If the seller is desperate to get rid of the property, there may be a hidden reason (problem) which could later affect you the buyer. A home inspection will help ensure that you are not just buying someone else’s nightmare.
Ask: How long have the previous owners lived there?
Find out how long the present owners stayed there. If they’ve been there for several years, chances are they have been relatively happy, which always a good sign.
Ask: Do you know of any damage to the property?
Exterior damages are often easy to spot but can often be missed. Internal damages – such as covered over damp or cracks, or roof leaks in the dry season are often hard to detect until living in a house. This means that you must always ask the agent the extent to any damages (if any) the property has incurred. Be bold. A good agent will give you a straight answer.
Ask: Do you recommend a home inspection?
If the agent hesitates then you should wonder whether the seller has something to hide. Always insist on a home inspection (usually paid for by the buyer) as a condition of sale.
Ask: Please explain the voetstoots clause and how I can protect myself if problems surface later?
If the agent has asked you to sign an offer document containing a voetstoots clause without counselling you on the implications for you the buyer, then you should suspect that the agent is not acting in your best interests. Insist on using a home inspection clause (which protects the buyer) to balance the protection which a voetstoots clause affords the seller.
Q: How did the agent and the seller decide on an asking price?
If the agent is good at their job, they’ll be able to justify why the property has been valued as it has. If you’re lucky though, they might let you in on a secret and tell you that the seller has over-valued the property. This will then give you some idea on whether there is room for negotiation.
Q: Have any major additions or alterations been conducted and are there approved plans available?
Make sure you know of any work that has been recently been undertaken. Also ensure that the local municipality has approved plans for all alterations and additions.
Q: How much are the municipal rates? And how much are utility bills in the area?
If you can, try and get an exact figure. As an expense, rates and utilities bills may seem small at first in comparison to the property, but they are recurring and you have to make sure it’s affordable in relation to your income.
Q: What is broadband like?
Increasingly one of the most important questions. Today we rely on the internet for just about everything, the speed and ease of getting on the net is very important.
Q: Can I speak with the seller?
Many estate agents dislike this question because they want to control the sales process. However, speaking directly to the seller can have its advantages. After all, can an estate agent really tell you how noisy the neighbours are, or if dodgy people hang out in the area? Of course, they may not give you a candid account either but if they refuse to speak with you before the transaction, then maybe they’ve got something to hide.
Q: Can I have a trial run?
Not a common request, but why not? If you have any doubts in your mind about the condition of the property or the surrounding area and the owner is willing, ask if you can live in the house for a couple of hours. Walking around in five minutes and then leaving isn’t enough time for you to make this kind of decision and if you’re not brave enough to ask, then at the very least, make sure you see it three or four times.