South Africa’s largest estate agents (in alphabetical order) include Aida (www.aida.co.za), ERA (www.era.co.za), Homenet (different website addresses in different regions), Nationlink (www.nationlinkproperty.com), Pam Golding (www.pamgolding.co.za), Rawson (www.rawson.co.za), REMAX (different website addresses in different regions) and Seeff Property Services (www.seeff.com). If you wish to find an agent in a particular town or area, look in the local telephone book or yellow pages, or use the internet.
Dealing with an estate agent in South Africa is similar to dealing with one in Australia, Europe or the United States: most are well organised and professional (some are positively sleek). The industry is controlled by the government-established Estate Agency Affairs Board (Tel. 011-880 9831, www.eaab.org.za), with which all estate agents must be registered.
All agents are issued (annually) with a fidelity fund certificate and must comply with the Board’s Code of Conduct. A current certificate should be displayed; if it isn’t, check with the Board that an agent is registered. Agents must also have either undertaken an examination course in the principles of estate agency or completed a year’s practical training under the guidance of a qualified ‘full status’ estate agent. If you have a complaint against an estate agent or believe that he has mismanaged your money, you should contact the Board.
Some people, particularly the UK, use an agent in their own country with an office in South Africa or who works with one or more South African agents. You may pay higher fees when dealing with a foreign agent, as there may be more people involved and local property owners may inflate the price when they think a ‘rich’ foreigner is interested in buying their home.
SURVIVAL TIP If you’re using a foreign agent, confirm (and reconfirm) that a particular property is still for sale and the price before travelling to South Africa to view it.
Obtain details of as many properties as possible in your chosen area and make a shortlist of those you wish to view (it’s also wise to mark them on a map). Details provided by South African estate agents are usually extensive, although in the case of old properties in need of renovation there obviously isn’t much information that can be given except the land area, and the number and size of buildings. Most serious agents have extensive websites providing details of properties they offer (as well as information about the legal and financial aspects of buying and selling property, and quite often general information about life in South Africa), although not all properties are included on them and you may need to register to view those that are. South African agents who advertise in foreign journals or who work closely with overseas agents may provide colour photographs and a full description, particularly for expensive properties.
SURVIVAL TIP Whoever you buy through, make sure that you know the local market value of property, as it’s easy to pay over the odds in popular areas.
Never allow yourself to be pressurised into a purchase and always take independent expert legal advice. Some agents pressurise clients into signing contracts and paying deposits quickly, alleging that there are queues of other clients waiting to buy the property (which may be true!). Some even claim that legal advice is unnecessary or that they provide it themselves, which is both illegal and unethical. Your chance of solving any problems is greater if you take legal advice, and registered lawyers have professional indemnity insurance. There are, however, many reputable estate agents in South Africa who provide an excellent and reliable service.
The commission charged by estate agents varies, the average being around 7.5 per cent plus - Value Added Tax (VAT) - , which is invariably paid by the seller. Some sellers charge a fixed commission (e.g. R15,000 on properties costing up to R300,000 and up to R65,000 on properties costing up to R2 million). The cheaper the property, the higher the fee tends to be as a percentage of the sale. On the most expensive properties fees tend to be more negotiable. In any case, you’re free to negotiate the agent’s commission (whether a fixed fee or a percentage).
Before using an agent, check whether he makes extra charges (apart from the normal fees and taxes associated with buying a property in South Africa) for services such as additional viewings, checking the property on your behalf, and arranging for the connection of utilities.
Some South African agents expect customers to know where they want to buy within a 30 to 40km (20 to 25mi) radius, and may even expect you to narrow your choice down to certain towns or villages. If you cannot define where and what you’re looking for, at least tell the agent so that he will know that you’re undecided. If you’re ‘just looking’ (window shopping), say so. Most agents will still be pleased to show you properties, as they’re well aware that many people fall in love with (and buy) a property on the spot.
A South African agent may ask you to sign a document before showing you any properties; this is simply to protect his commission should you obtain details from another source or try to do a deal directly with the owner. You’re usually shown properties personally by agents and won’t be given the keys (particularly to furnished properties) or be expected to deal with tenants or vendors directly.
You should make an appointment to see properties, as agents don’t like people simply turning up and asking to view a property. If you make an appointment, you should keep it or call and cancel it. If you’re on holiday, you can drop in unannounced to have a look at what’s on offer, but don’t expect an agent to show you properties. If you view properties during a holiday, it’s wise to do so at the beginning so that you can return later to inspect any you particularly like a second or third time. South African estate agents usually work on Saturdays, and even on Sundays in some areas during the peak season.
You should try to view as many properties as possible during the time available, but allow sufficient time to view each property thoroughly, to travel (and get lost) between houses, and for breaks for sustenance. Although it’s important to see sufficient properties to form an accurate opinion of price and quality, don’t see too many in one day (between four and six is usually a manageable number) as it’s easy to become confused as to the merits of each property. If you’re shown properties that don’t meet your requirements, tell the agent immediately. You can help the agent to narrow the field by telling him exactly what’s wrong with the properties you reject.
It’s wise to make notes of both the good and bad features, and take lots of photographs of the properties you like, so that you’re able to compare them later at your leisure, but keep a record of which photos are of which house! It’s also wise to mark each property on a map so that, should you wish to return, you can find them without getting lost (too often). The more a property appeals to you, the more you should look for faults and negative points; if you still like it after stressing the negative points, it must have special appeal!