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Buying property? Why the 'right' neighbourhood matters

24 May 2017

It’s very seldom that anyone searching for a new home falls in love with the first property they see, so when you do finally find that perfect space, succumbing to the emotional attachment can cloud your judgement and result in a costly mistake.

“Realtors place location ahead of all other considerations, for good reason - where your home is situated will determine not only the future value of your investment, but will also impact many aspects of your everyday life in years to come because you are buying a lifestyle as well as bricks and mortar,” says Geffen.

This is according to Sandy Geffen, Executive Director of Sotheby's International Realty South Africa, who says it is important to remember that buying a home is a long-term financial investment, as well as an emotional one, and in order to realise solid returns on both, it’s essential to equally assess the property as well as the area in which it’s situated.

“Realtors place location ahead of all other considerations for good reason - where your home is situated will determine not only the future value of your investment, but will also impact many aspects of your everyday life in years to come because you are buying a lifestyle as well as bricks and mortar,” says Geffen.

“And the wrong lifestyle choice at the outset could spell endless misery down the line.”

She says while the physical elements of a property can easily be changed, the same cannot be said for the culture of a neighbourhood, and chances are you will never truly love your house if you don’t like your neighbourhood.

“Before you start trawling the internet and phoning agents, take time to do some research and find out as much as you can about the suburbs in which you will be viewing homes,” says Geffen.

She shares insight on things to consider when trying to find the right neighbourhood:

1. Think about what your current community is lacking

 If there is something that you have always felt was missing that would make a difference to your life, put it at the top of your list.

2. Think about what you don't want in a neighbourhood

Geffen says don’t underestimate the effect of regular inconvenience on your happiness - and the impact on your wallet. Is there a shopping centre nearby where you can accomplish several errands at once, or do you have to drive to multiple destinations to fill a prescription, buy groceries and have your jacket dry-cleaned?

Late night noise is a great example - if you want peace and quiet it’s probably best to steer clear of colleges or areas with a lively bar scene or highways.

3. Municipal rates and taxes

These often vary considerably between suburbs, and can significantly impact your monthly budget. Bear in mind though, that this also affects the level of services and amenities an area receives.

4. Lifestyle and activities

Do you regularly play tennis or golf, do your children need access to a library or sports facilities? Pet owners should consider the proximity of pet-friendly parks, while a young single person would benefit from nearby bars or restaurants.

5. Convenience

Don’t underestimate the effect of regular inconvenience on your happiness - and the impact on your wallet. Is there a shopping centre nearby where you can accomplish several errands at once, or do you have to drive to multiple destinations to fill a prescription, buy groceries and have your jacket dry-cleaned?

6. Future plans

It’s always a good idea to check with the local planning office if there are any projects in the pipeline for your area, or you could find that a year down the line that your tranquil neighbourhood has become a construction zone of subdivision and densifications, or home to a new school across the road.

7. Crime rate

Municipal rates and taxes often vary considerably between suburbs, and can significantly impact your monthly budget. Bear in mind though, that this also affects the level of services and amenities an area receives.

This is not always as obvious as one might think, and should always be taken into account. Stats are available online, and your estate agent should also be able to advise you. If you're on the fence between two suburbs, but one has a lower crime rate, knowing this information might make your decision easier.

Additional research

Sue Hall, Area Specialist for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in River Club and Duxberry, says buyers who are unfamiliar with an area should take the time to drive through the suburb, preferably during the day and in the evening.

“Pay attention to the general cleanliness and the state of the pavements and the facades of nearby homes as this says a lot about a community,” says Hall.

“It will also help you to assess noise levels as you may discover that there is, in fact, a railway line just a block away, or that the quiet restaurant down the road attracts noisy revellers at night.”

Hall says agents across the board agree that there are common location concerns shared by most buyers, and topping the list are security and convenience, especially proximity to schools, places of worship and general amenities.

However, she says in large metros like Johannesburg where transformation, densification and diversity are the watchwords and adjacent suburbs can literally be chalk and cheese, one cannot assume that a nearby neighbourhood will automatically suit your lifestyle and needs just because of its proximity.

Do you regularly play tennis or golf, do your children need access to a library or sports facilities? Pet owners should consider the proximity of pet-friendly parks, while a young single person would benefit from nearby bars or restaurants.

Justine Roux, Area Specialist for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Atholl, Illovo and Inanda, says over and above the obvious, the degree of concern about a home’s location and buyers’ key priorities can differ significantly from area to area.

“For instance, the majority of our clients are established and successful professionals who work long hours, and in a city known for its traffic congestion, the commuting time to their place of work, as well as ease of access to major roads, is important,” says Roux.

She says they are also more concerned about noise levels, privacy and security, and one of the biggest deterrents to signing on the dotted line is an adjacent tract of open land which is perceived as a high security risk.

“And we are regularly asked about the immediate neighbours and whether the current owners have experienced any problems or disagreements,” says Roux.

According to Hall, buyers with young children are increasingly drawn to suburbs like River Club because of their traditional suburban atmosphere and close sense of community.

“People here want to feel safe when out and about doing things like riding bikes and walking their dogs,” says Hall.

Marc Maron, Area Specialists for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Waverley, Oaklands and Norwood, says he always encourages buyers to look beyond the house and to feel free to ask questions, regardless of how irrelevant they may seem.

“An informed buyer is a savvy investor, and far less likely to make an impulse purchase or be taken in by unrealistic ‘bargains’ like a mansion at rock bottom price - because it’s in a dubious area that is showing no signs of rejuvenation,” says Maron.

“Unless you are bidding in an auction of repossessed property and pay a fraction of the market value, buying twice the house at half the price in a rundown suburb with no kerb appeal will offer short-term benefits at best - unless you are adept at flipping at minimum additional investment.”

Kobus Venter, fellow Sales Agent to Maron, says there is no longer any excuse for ignorance as buyers have access to unlimited information, both from experienced agents with in-depth knowledge of their areas and online where any information shortfall can easily be accessed.

He says buying the worst house in the best area you can afford is almost always the better long-term investment.

“Even modest upgrades and improvements made over time are likely to significantly increase the value of your home, and ultimately the return on investment,” says Venter.

Geffen says while it’s true that it’s essential that the home to which you return every day is an inviting and happy haven, your suburb’s character will influence your family's character over time.

“And, when you look back years from now, you want to be able to nostalgically remember summer barbeques in the garden and happy days in the park instead of stressful hours commuting or sleepless nights due to unanticipated neighbours,” says Geffen.

“At the end of the day, when you fall in love with a home, you want to love living in it, so a little due diligence will go a long way.”

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