Top tips for first time home owners

By Janice Roberts

Owning a house comes with certain responsibilities that first time home owners might not be fully aware of.  Doing your homework upfront is key to having the peace of mind that you can cope with the financial obligations of owning your own home, including related costs for maintenance, repairs, insurance, rates and taxes and so on, so that you can relax and enjoy your new home and the making of many happy memories.

Cosmopolitan Projects, one of South Africa’s largest developers of affordable housing, offers a handy check list of essential tips associated with owning a new home:

  • Rates and taxes – on registration of the property in your name, you will be billed for rates and taxes by the council and will be liable for the account, regardless of whether you have moved into the property or not.  You will need to open an account at the council offices in your name and pay a deposit.  Make sure you provide a valid postal address and should you not receive the statement, it is your responsibility to rectify this with the council. If you have not been paying your rates and taxes, you will be in for a nasty surprise when you receive an accrued municipal account.
  • Repairs and maintenance – once your house is registered in your name, you are responsible for all maintenance and repairs of your home going forward.  Things such as painting, repairs of leaking taps and blocked drains, basin connectors, window handles, door locks, roof tiles, flashings and so on, are all affected by wear and tear and will require maintenance and repairs from time to time to protect the value of your asset.
  • What about cracks? If you have bought a newly built home or a home off-plan, then the formation of “settlement cracks” for the first two years is completely normal in a new building. Fluctuations in temperature and rain and the sheer weight of the building will cause your foundation to settle and cause small cracks known as settlement cracks. Your house is designed with expansion joints to be flexible for these movements. After some time, the foundation will settle and less cracks will appear.  The owner is responsible to fix and maintain these cracks a part of their home maintenance.
  • What happens if I find latent defects after I move in? A latent defect is a fault in the property that could not have been discovered by a reasonably thorough inspection before the sale. As a consumer you have the right to give instruction to a developer to rectify latent defects as follows: within 12 months you can instruct the builder to repair roof leaks attributable to workmanship and design materials – damage caused by storms will not be covered by the developer, and likewise if any tiles were moved for repairs or work done after occupation the warranty is no longer valid.  Homeowners can also instruct the builder to rectify major structural defects caused by non-compliance with regards to technical building standards within five years, while plumbing and electrical faults will be rectified within the first year of occupation.
  • Building Insurance – Home owners insurance protects the building and all its fixtures – essentially the brick structure that you will be moving into – against perils such as fire, flood, severe weather, theft and so on.   It’s also important to remember the underlying premise of home owners insurance – it protects you for sudden and unforeseen loss or damage. Your insurance company will not cover you for gradual deterioration as a result of a lack of maintenance, often referred to as wear and tear, so make sure you budget for and conduct regular maintenance on your property and attend to any necessary repairs. The bank will also insist on you having this cover to protect their interest in the property until your bond is fully paid.
  • Contents insurance – Insure the contents of your home against loss or damage as a result of theft, fire, flood and extreme weather conditions.  This insurance can be combined with your building and car insurance.  Insuring with one insurer could lead to a cheaper, consolidated premium.

Being aware of and understanding the additional responsibilities that come with owning a house, and the expenses that come with them, is key to enjoying your new home, and not being overwhelmed by it.

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