Steps to buying a house for the first time: the essential homeowner checklist

Ready to buy your first home? Make sure you’re aware of everything coming your way with our homeowner checklist.

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Steps to buying a house for the first time: the essential homeowner checklist

Buying a house for the first time can be a daunting experience. It’s likely you won’t yet be able to afford the home of your dreams to start with so you’ll need to weigh up different features and decide what’s most important. A serious amount of homework needs to be done!

If you’re looking for first-time homeowner advice, then check out these handy first-time homebuyer tips.

Pay off any debtors and build your credit score gradually prior to taking out a mortgage. Build your score via phone contracts, small bank loans and having a credit card you religiously pay off each month.

Essential homeowner checklist (in brief)

Our handy 'buying-a-house' checklist briefly outlines the 12 key steps to buying a house for first-time homebuyers.

For advice on the moving process itself, check out our ultimate moving house checklist and tips on preparing to move:

  1. Identify your needs: what is the most important thing for your first home to have? Is location more important than property design?
  2. Know your budget: work out your maximum and start your property hunt a little lower down.
  3. Check out government schemes: see if there's any financial help you can get with your purchase.
  4. Get pre-approved for a mortgage: this can make the process of property hunting easier as you have a clearer idea of how much money you can borrow.
  5. Find a real estate agent(s): use these experts to help you find your new home.
  6. Search for a home online: do some of the leg-work yourself by searching for properties you like. This can help your agents learn what you're looking for.
  7. Visit open homes: get a feel for different places and new builds to decide if this is something you're interested in.
  8. Have a professional inspection done: don't sign or transfer any money until you've had the property checked over by a professional.
  9. Get an appraisal: know how much your new property is actually worth to inform any price negotiations with the seller.
  10. Make an offer: most people start with an offer that is under their budget and the asking price so that they can negotiate up.
  11. Negotiate: work with your agents and the seller to reach a price you're all happy with. Remember that you may not be the only interested buyer though!
  12. Close the sale: finalise all the paperwork and money transfer promptly so that you can arrange a move date. Make sure all deeds and papers are transferred to your name.

Advice for first time homebuyers in South Africa

Now that you understand the basics of the process, here are a few top tips to make it even smoother:

Don’t forget FLISP

When buying a house for the first time in South Africa, if you earn R22,000 per month or less, you may qualify to take part in the Finance Linked Individual Subsidy Programme (FLISP). The amount of subsidy you’ll get is set on a sliding scale – you qualify for less the more you earn.  The maximum subsidy available is R121 626.

Identify your needs

Make a list of what you really need in a property when home buying for the first time. Some questions you may want to ask include:

  • How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need? 
  • How important is it to be close to your kids’ school? 
  • Do you need outdoor living space? 

Know your budget

Work out what you can afford. What is your net worth? How big of a deposit have you saved? What is your gross monthly income?

Free home loan calculators online are a useful tool when home buying for the first time to see what you’ll likely qualify for, home loan-wise, and how much you can afford to spend on your first home - but it doesn't stop there. You should also make list of the various costs associated with living in such property (estimated utility bills, rates and transport costs). This will help you see if it's somewhere you can afford to live after the purchase is complete.

Check for ‘hidden’ costs

One of the most important tips for buying a house is to familiarise yourself with the additional costs involved in purchasing a property. The following often come as unwelcome surprises to first-time homebuyers in South Africa: 

  • Transfer costs
  • Registration costs
  • Transfer Duty costs
  • FICA fees
  • Posts and Petties
  • Electronic instruction fees

Putting in an offer 

Once your loan is pre-approved, you can search for a suitable first home that fits both your criteria and budget. Use only reputable real estate agents and do some online searches yourself to get a feel of the market. Remember, an agent acts as the liaison between you, as a buyer, and the seller. Don’t be afraid to negotiate as much as possible on the price when it comes to putting in an offer!

Before signing anything, make sure to visit the property several times, get all your questions answered, and have the property professionally appraised and inspected for any defects.

Final steps to buying a house

Once you’ve found your first home and all conditions of the contract have been met, including payment of the deposit, it’s time for the final steps. These vary slightly from province to province and can take at least 10 weeks to complete: 

  • Transfer of the property into your name.
  • Registration of the Mortgage Bond at the Deeds Office.
  • Provision of an Electrical Clearance Certificate by the seller.
  • Provision of a document stating the property is pest-free.

Now that you’ve read our advice for first-time homebuyers and know what’s involved in home buying for the first time in South Africa, you can put together your very own buying-a-house checklist! Hopefully, you’ll have saved both time and money thanks to our essential tips for buying a house. 

  • Know your needs and budget.
  • Get a mortgage pre-approved.
  • Plan for ‘hidden’ costs.
  • Check applicable government schemes.
  • Originally published