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Unique homes: Think twice before making an offer

futuristic house

Beware that home on the hill: The one with the fairytale Victorian turrets, oddly shaped windows and strikingly “different” paintwork. Stay well away from this one if you have any sense.

Unique, one-of-a-kind homes may charm you, but believe us they will disappoint you when you try to sell them.

This is according to Jan Davel, MD of the RealNet estate agency, who says that while the home may appeal to your sense of adventure, it could cost you dearly in the long run.

“The biggest problem with one-of-a-kind or even just unusual homes is that mortgage lenders who view properties as security for home loans are very likely to have concerns about their ultimate resale value,” he says, noting a property that stands out like a sore thumb in its neighbourhood, or is noticeably bigger than the surrounding houses in a middle-income suburb, may cause lenders to refuse to finance your purchase. This is because it may prove too difficult to sell in an emergency. “Similarly, they may refuse to grant a loan to any prospective buyer when it is your turn to sell, leaving you stuck with the property unless you can find a cash buyer that shares your appreciation of the home’s eccentricities.”

Stuck with a charmerugly man taking a selfie

But say you did buy a unique home and you’re looking to sell, how to go about it?

First things first: find an agent who specialises in your suburb and can show you a comprehensive buyers’ list. Don’t be afraid to interview a number of agents until you find one you believe can find a buyer in the shortest period of time – and preferably a cash purchaser.

Here’s how much every week on the market costs you

Gert Bekker, Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty area specialist in Northcliff, Blackheath and Valeriedene, was tasked with selling a highly unique home that from the outset didn’t have mass appeal.

“It was a house on Rockey Drive, Northcliff, which was erected in the 1980s and was at the time purpose-built and used as a martial arts dojo,” he says, noting that while its most unique attribute was its unobstructed views from the iconic Jozi skyline to the Magaliesberg Mountains, it sat on the market for a long time with the initial agencies trying to market it as a dojo. “Due to that market being very limited it proved almost impossible to sell.”

Bekker explains that the house is literally perched on the ledge of Northcliff, which was known as Aasvoëlkop in earlier days due to the large colony of vultures which used to nest there. This fact lent inspiration to Bekker, who set out find an adventure-loving buyer.

“Because of the nature of the property, its position and its purpose-built glass-fronted design, I needed to match its attributes with a buyer’s passion; particularly someone who enjoyed being up in the air, so to speak,” he says. “I started working with a client who thinks like a high-soaring bird and it was a match made in the heavens of Northcliff. The new owner is a passionate hang-glider!”

Don’t alienate your home

unique home northcliff rockey drive resize

This is the home Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty agent, Gert Bekker, sold in Northcliff to a hang-gliding enthusiast.

In today’s market there is likely to be much more demand for a home office, an extra bathroom or a new alarm system than there is for peculiar design features, says Davel. Consequently, existing owners also need to take care when making alterations and extensions that these will not make their home unsaleable.

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“Homeowners also need to consider that making their home layout really ‘different’ may also be a problem,” says Davel, noting that while they may only require one bedroom, for example, buyers – and lenders – might not react too well to the fact that they have converted the other two bedrooms the home originally had into an art studio or karate dojo. “In fact, even unusual paintwork applied to suit your artistic nature can make your home less appealing to potential buyers, who will probably subtract the cost of a new, more neutral paint job – if they make any offer to purchase at all.”

Consider a home Debbie Pughe-Parry, Pam Golding Properties Port Elizabeth agent, was tasked with selling: It was situated in Fordyce Road, Walmer, and was an award-winning architecturally designed house. It boasted all face brick and stainless steel, full double-volume aluminium windows with outstanding views over a nature reserve.

“A glass suspension bridge led to the main bedroom and another to an outside roof – the roof was designed as a solar heating system for the house,” says Pughe-Parry. “An indoor pool was framed by another full-length window which was designed to align with the sun’s rays where, at a certain time of the year, shone through the window in a complete blaze across the main passageway. Stained glass panels reflected a spray of colours across a blank wall in the music room.”

This house, too, sat on the market for an extensive period. Other unappealing attributes were the fact that it was 1,000m² in size on a 2,000m² erf which made it too big for most families. “It was not very child friendly, had very expensive fittings and features, a very unique design and was beyond the affordability of the area,” she says, noting that buyers do need to consider resale when buying. “They need to be careful of overcapitalising for the area and city in which they may be buying. Buying a home is an emotional decision and often buyers are swayed by the mood or feeling of a home – and in this instance its design and mastery. It would be difficult to recoup the original outlay.”

Selling a dated homeUgly home

Staying in Port Elizabeth, Pam Golding Properties Port Elizabeth agent, Vana McGee, says the most unique home she ever sold was a house in Edmonds Road, Lovemore Heights.

“When it was built it must have been a glamour queen of note,” McGee remembers. “When I first went in it was listed with another agent and my buyers bought it. They didn’t really renovate but rather improvised by freshening it up with paint. It was a faux Cape Dutch for want of a better description with gables and wide terraces stretching the width of the home and overlooking the terraced garden and huge pool.

It was built on a steep hill and the garden was made up of two or three terraced sections with doors leading out to the patio from one living room and the kitchen onto a long, wide patio with balustrades. It was very glam, but dated.”

While it was so unique, it did occupy a great location in the sheltered, older part of the suburb where the views are panoramic across the city all the way to the sea/Summerstrand.

“Its positive attributes were views, wonderful space, beautiful garden, and sheltered from the bad weather. It also had a magnificent staircase sweeping up from the entrance hall,” she says, noting what made it a harder sell. “It was initially overpriced. It also needed work and of course the upkeep of such a property is expensive.

“It was a huge home and not what modern South African families are looking for: The sloping garden, the pool not a step from the patio but rather a stroll, and not the kind of flowing indoor/outdoor entertainment area which is so essential to most modern homeowners.”

Buyers of properties such as these need to carefully consider how easy it would be to sell them in a hurry as there will always be a limited market for unique homes.

“The truth is that most buyers – and lenders – are wary of the unusual or the exotic,” says Davel. “Your home does not, of course, have to be an exact replica of any other, but sales of equivalent houses in your area do provide the basis for value estimates.”

Need to check out the comparative house values in your suburb? Start here



David A Steynberg, managing editor and director of HomeTimes, has more than 10 years of experience as both a journalist and editor, having headed up Business Day’s HomeFront supplement, SAPOA’s range of four printed titles, digimags Asset in Africa and the South African Planning Institute’s official title, Planning Africa, as well as B2B titles, Building Africa and Water, Sewage & Effluent magazines. He began his career at Farmer’s Weekly magazine before moving on to People Magazine where he was awarded two Excellence Awards for Best Real Life feature as well as Writer of the Year runner-up. He is also a past fellow of the International Women’s Media Foundation.

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