Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Do they really want to sell these houses or not?

If you could get a 100% mortgage, how much could you afford to spend on a house? We can afford about R2,000,000 (Hubby can get a 100% mortgage for that amount), which translates to about $270,000 USD. Sounds like a pretty modest amount, yes? Take a look at this to see what $270K US can buy here in Joburg. This particular property search is confined to the “better” suburbs, middle class and up, and shows 448 homes between $135K and $270K USD.

So, while we aren’t looking at Hollywood mansions or Beverly Hills estates, we are looking at very nice homes in upmarket areas, houses selling for a respectable amount of money and located in beautiful settings. The problem is, I am coming to question just how serious these people are…agents and sellers alike…abut selling their houses.

Take the mid-century modern house I have been coveting…it has been on the market since November and was originally listed at R3.1million, a hallucinatory price if I ever heard one. It is a lovely house, but would you pay Beverly Hills prices for a house located nearby…but definitely outside the confines of BH? Well, Bryanston and Randburg have a similar relationship, Bryanston being the prestigious suburb and Randburg being more of an ordinary middle-class kind of place. And although this house and the surrounding area look like Bryanston, the fact of the matter is, the utilities are supplied by and taxes are paid to Randburg and, as one estate agent told me, “Nobody pays 3 million for a house in Randburg, no matter how nice it is!”

So, the owner learned the hard way that this is very much a live sentiment and has been lowering the price of the house, little by little. When we first saw it, he wanted R2.7mil, too rich for our blood. But a few weeks later, checking the website, we saw the price had come down. Unfortunately, our offer of R2.1mil was not accepted…twice. But this weekend we were told the price of the house has come down to R2.2mil…100K more than the best we can stretch to offer. And I have to wonder…does this man really want to sell this house??

He’s had it on the market for nearly five months. He had one offer at R2.4mil, which he accepted, but the buyer couldn’t qualify for a loan. He has had at least six open houses (“show house” in South African) and not a nibble. His own attorneys have advised him to accept our R2.1mil offer…we’ve made the offer twice, the second time backed up by a letter of qualification from our lender. We’re the only game in town and the amount of money he’s quibbling over is around $13K USD…he’s already returned to the US (he’s American) and his family is presently en route, so the house is empty…does he really want to sell this house or doesn’t he?

This being the 21st century, I do a lot of my house hunting on the web. Property Genie, the link noted above, is a particularly good source as it aggregates listings from multiple real estate agencies, allowing me to browse the offerings of many companies all in the same place. But many of the listings are of a very poor quality…not only on Property Genie, but on the agencies sites themselves. Tell me, would you be motivated to go see this house? No pictures, about as unremarkable description as you could possibly get…why would anyone even click on this ad, let alone call to make an appointment to see it? Does this agent really want to sell this house? It sure doesn’t look like it to me!

Or this one, headlined “Bank Repo Bargain”… No photo and the description consists entirely of “look no further for a property that meets your needs.” Excuse me? How am I supposed to know if it meets my needs or not…or even want to explore that possibility…if all I know is the house has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms? Douglasdale is one of those schizo suburbs (I know…I live there) that, on one side of the main road are luxury homes with lush gardens and on the other side are tacky little boxes that pass for houses…without a picture, how can I tell if it’s on the side of the road that would interest me? Without a description, how do I know if it has a garage or a pool or if it is even big enough for my family and possessions? It doesn’t seem the agent is particularly interested in selling this house because if s/he was, wouldn’t there be a few pics and at least a basic description of the property?

Then there are the house listings that show a dozen pictures of the outside of the house from every possible angle and distance, but no pics of the inside. Those listings make me nervous…what is wrong with the inside that the agent isn’t posting any pictures of it? Kitchen and bathrooms not updated since the 1950s? Holes in the walls? Broken cupboard doors? Missing fixtures or sanitary ware? Hideous tiles or paint? Evidence of destructive tenants? What is wrong with a house that pictures of the interior are conspicuously missing? I don’t want to waste the agent’s time…or my own…battling traffic to a house only to find that the kitchen is too small or bizarrely laid out, that the living room won’t fit the sofa, or there isn’t a shower in the place. Show me pictures of the interior and I’ll self-select out the obviously unsuitable houses without wasting anybody’s time…agent, seller, or my own.

Then there are the ones that show multiple interior shots but nothing outside…or no pics of the front of the house. It just makes me wonder what they are trying to hide. We actually went to see a house that had an absolute horror of a back yard…boundary wall backed up to a busy freeway, the trees that once shielded the household from the traffic noise cut down and some of them burned in huge pits dug into the back yard, no flowers, bushes, trees, or shrubs…nothing but a dry, scrubby lawn and a pit at one side of the house full of stagnant water. The house interior was also a nightmare, with sagging ceilings, no room flow whatsoever (you had to walk through a dark TV room to reach the dining room from the kitchen, for example), and a tenant in the cottage who refused to let anyone in to see it! This house was listed at R1.65M and the owner had turned down an offer from a neighbour for R1.5mil…about half a mil more than I would have considered it worth! Did that woman really want to sell her house? Her actions would suggest that she wasn’t really a committed seller.

Then there are the pictures themselves. Even when the agent includes interior pics, they seem to be randomly chosen, and often so dark that the features of the room are indistinguishable. Do they think this lends an air of mystery to the property, that it piques curiosity on the part of potential buyers? Well, not this buyer. There are literally hundreds of listings to sort through and if other buyers are anything like me, they only spend a lot of time on the really interesting listings and just skip over the ones that don’t jump out at them. In fact, I suspect most buyers are like me, because the listings that jump out at me often are for properties that have already sold, indicating the listings jumped out at somebody else before I even got there!

Which brings up another problem…houses that remain on websites long after they have been sold and the mortgages granted. The laziness on the part of the agents who fail to take the listings down causes a lot of pointless phone calls. OK…I suspect some of the agents leave them up because they will generate calls to which the agent can say “I’m sorry, that house has been sold…but what are you looking for and maybe I can find something for you?”

In America we call that “bait and switch” and it is illegal. Surprisingly, it is not illegal in South Africa, although it is gravely unethical. I won’t work with an agent who suckers in potential clients this way. Advertise a good house with decent pictures and appropriate description and I’ll call you, waving my prequalification certificate like a flag!

I don’t understand why agents aren’t breaking their bums to find houses for buyers like me. If these agents really, really want to sell houses and take commissions to their pockets, what is their issue with sharing with their colleagues? Don’t they realize that 3% of a sale is much nicer to the wallet than 6% of a no-sale? I see multiple houses listed by the same agency but an agent working there will only show me his/her listings! Agents! I don’t care who listed the house, you or your colleagues…they have listings…I am a serious, committed, prequalified buyer…why aren’t you showing me everything your agency has listed that fits my needs, instead of the one or two houses in your own personal inventory? Don’t you realize that half a commission is better than none? That your sellers need more foot traffic than less because the more people who see a house, the better chance of selling it?

But I seem to keep coming across agents who would rather try to talk me into buying the wrong house than find and sell me the right one. How lazy…and ultimately stupid…is that? We saw a house that was too small and too expensive. Instead of hearing us…at this price we wouldn’t have the money to expand the house…and saying “Let me check with my colleagues and see what they might have available that would suit you”…she countered each objection with an explanation for why the owner did that, or that the owner likes it this way, or we could make something bigger or paint it or… Sorry, but the owner’s taste and sense of balance and style were way out of whack with mine, it would have cost a fortune we don’t have to fix it, and unless her owner was willing to drop the price by about a million rand so that we’d have the funds to fix it, this was just not the house for us!

So, we continue househunting, slogging through internet listings that don’t tell us how big a house is (and those that do invariably include the garage, patios and balconies in the square footage, places I am loathe to put the sofa, king-sized bed, or Hubby’s big screen), that list prices the owner won’t accept, that fail to show pictures of such important areas as the kitchen, bathroom, and front of the house…or just simply fail to show pictures at all. For an entire afternoon’s perusal of hundreds of listings, yesterday I came up with four houses…one of which has been sold, two of which we are going to see today, the fourth one we will see tomorrow. Nearly 500 listings and only four suitable…

But what about all those that fit our price and location requirements but didn’t have any pictures or descriptions? Wouldn’t it be sad if my perfect home was one of those but because some slothful estate agent couldn’t be bothered to write a description and post some pics, we never meet?

Later…Hubby on his way to pick me up to see a house…


  1. So, SV, another week has passed and I'm awaiting another chapter in the house hunting saga. Do you have the mid-century mod yet :-).


  2. Phew, ministering in a poor(ish) congregation, I am struck by the affluence of the blogger.

  3. And you are struck by my perceived affluence in what way?

    Are you assuming that my so-called affluence is in the form of fat wads of ill-gotten gains stuffed behind the fireplace bricks?

    Are you assuming that my husband and I have not earned our affluence, that we have somehow deprived your congregants of their fair share and taken it to ourselves?

    Both my husband and I grew up "poorish." We have worked and earned our way out of it. Are you finding fault in that?

    Your comment, brief as it is, was shockingly judgmental for a man of the cloth, someone who I would expect to heed Christ's words: "judge not lest ye be judged."

    You might be interested to know that one of the reasons we are looking at these particular properties is that we need a place where our maid and her four children, who accompanied us from Cape Town, will be able to live. That means generous staff quarters or a separate granny flat, which we will provide to her and her family for free (including water and electricity) in addition to her above-average wage. No longer will they live in a one-room shack without plumbing.

    So, excuse me for managing to get out of being "poorish," even though it took me more than 50 years to do it. Excuse me for being savvy enough to move to a country where the equity from the sale of my working-class neighbourhood home in America could buy me a better quality of life. And excuse me for being smart enough to marry a man who, despite being non-white and raised in apartheid South Africa, managed to earn a degree and secure a job with a stable company and is now reaping the benefits of 15 years of being in their employ...that R2mil we plan to spend on a house will be through a mortgage (bond) supplied by his employer.

    It is this kind of knee-jerk judgmentalism and thinly-disguised envy that caused me to turn my back on Christianity. All too often the people who self-identify as Christians do not even make an effort to follow his teachings, as this example so aptly demonstrates. Judge not, Thomas...

  4. An interesting response, an aggressive one. From my point of view, no, the assumptions do not apply.

  5. i am from uk i live in uk last ten years after ten years i change my location like England to New Z eland so can you send me your terms and condition. then i decide and buy.


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