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Property features and trends: What do SA buyers really want?

24 May 2017

It’s almost impossible to believe nowadays, but in the not-too-distant past avocado-coloured kitchens, carpeted bathrooms and sponge-painted walls were the height of stylish interior design and would have been deal-sealing features for most home buyers, possibly even prompting the odd bidding war.

“Historically we have progressed from basic caves and simple huts through ornate castles to high-rise living, and nowadays it’s possible to find literally any type of home your imagination can conjure,” says Geffen.

This is according to Sandy Geffen, Executive Director of Sotheby's International Realty South Africa, who says that these days, tastes and trends are a little different - and certainly more varied, but what hasn’t changed is that the appearance of a property can greatly influence the speed and the final price achieved in sale.

“Historically we have progressed from basic caves and simple huts through ornate castles to high-rise living, and nowadays it’s possible to find literally any type of home your imagination can conjure,” says Geffen.

“There is a very close correlation, though, between a property’s uniqueness and the size of the potential buyer pool, which shrinks substantially the higher the property rates on the ‘interesting’ scale, and this can impact both return on investment and length of time needed to sell.”

With that said, unusual features can have great appeal, says Geffen, especially when the general characteristics of the home are in line with current trends.

Kobus Venter and Marc Maron, Area Specialists for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Johannesburg’s Waverley, Oaklands and Norwood, say they agree, and that buyers often look for that touch of uniqueness.

“People want something that sets a home apart from just an average box like hundreds of others, so details like bay windows or perfectly placed balconies can be very attractive to buyers,” say Venter and Maron.

“Bathrooms are equally important to buyers who mostly also prefer minimalistic designs. Vanities in solid wood are very trendy, and monochrome colour schemes are most popular.”

They say the most popular Norwood home listing averaged 300 internet views per month and it sold because of the volume and feeling of lightness and space added by extra-high ceilings.”

“We have seen some amazing features clinch deals in recent years, including hidden wine cellars, state-of-the-art smart home automation systems, exquisite entertainment areas and luxurious spa bathrooms,” says Grahame Diedericks, Manager Principal for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Midrand.

“However, there are also more common features that can sway buyers and one of the most noticeable trends in our area at the moment is fold-back patio doors because they allow for more spacious living and entertainment areas and create an open flow through the property.”

In Pretoria, though, Diedericks says it’s what’s inside that counts most.

“We are currently seeing more emphasis placed on quality kitchen countertops and cupboards, with solid wood in minimalist contemporary lines being most popular Marble tops have made a strong comeback, but they’re pricey and not for all budgets,” says Juanita du Plessis, Estate Specialist for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Pretoria East.

“Bathrooms are equally important to buyers who mostly also prefer minimalistic designs. Vanities in solid wood are very trendy, and monochrome colour schemes are most popular.”

“We are currently seeing more emphasis placed on quality kitchen countertops and cupboards, with solid wood in minimalist contemporary lines being most popular Marble tops have made a strong comeback, but they’re pricey and not for all budgets,” says Du Plessis

Du Plessis says energy efficiency is also becoming a key aspect for buyers in her area, with LED lighting, solar geysers and water tanks being the most commonly requested and installed.

“While green living is by no means a new idea, it is certainly gaining popularity, especially in new builds when it’s easier to install most of the systems,” she says.

Steve Thomas, Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty Franchise Manager for False Bay and Noordhoek, says in Cape Town trends are much the same.

“The features most commonly at the top of prospective buyers’ wish lists are open-plan living areas, lots of natural light and, increasingly, eco-friendly systems that save water and reduce the cost of energy,” says Thomas.

“In Cape Town people also prefer north-facing living, which is largely related to the two main weather influences: warmth and sunshine and protection against the south-east wind.”

On a practical note, Thomas says realtors all agree that low maintenance and convenience are now priorities for a growing number of buyers.

Venter and Maron say that low-maintenance gardens top the list of outdoor space requests, and many buyers now even prefer boreholes to pools in today’s economy.

“Large gardens used to be strong selling points, but buyers are increasingly seeking more compact gardens that need less attention, use less water and offer more security,” say the agents.

“People are also becoming more averse to long commutes in the growing traffic congestion, and first prize is to be within easy driving distance of their places of worship, regular shops, workplace and children’s schools.”

Du Plessis says energy efficiency is also becoming a key aspect for buyers in her area, with LED lighting, solar geysers and water tanks being the most commonly requested and installed.

However, they say while there are current trends with undeniably broad appeal, there are also features that can make homes very difficult to sell.

Maron and Venter say they are finding that face brick homes now often remain on the market for up to twice as long as other properties, and those with red-tiled roofs are even harder to move.

“We have noticed that grey has become a very popular paint colour for roofs as old red tiles really date a home,” they say.

Du Plessis agrees, and says that even when face brick homes have beautifully renovated interiors they are still a hard sell because many buyers are influenced by kerb appeal, or lack thereof.

Thomas says with security at the forefront of most buyers’ minds, it can be a problem if the garage is situated too far from the house, and also if basic security features are not in place.

Geffen says that bright wall colours like yellow and red that were once so popular can also put off buyers, so it’s advisable to repaint in neutral tones before putting a home on the market.

“Another big no-no is wall-to-wall carpeting, especially in living areas, as most buyers prefer hardwood floors, and some people even consider carpeting unsanitary,” says Geffen.

“And unless it’s a contemporary feature wall, rooms decorated with traditional wall paper are likely to have the same negative effect on potential buyers.”

While some features are certainly a lot more difficult and costly to change, Geffen says that owners of older properties looking to sell would do well to seek advice from their realtors on inexpensive quick fixes and to do a little research about current trends before putting their homes on the market.

“Simple measures like a fresh coat of paint and replacing dated taps and cupboard handles could make a significant difference to the final sale price, as well as how long a property remains on the market,” says Geffen.

“Weigh up the investment against the potential return, if it’s likely to push up the sale price by a few thousands more than you spend, it’s worth the time and effort.”

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