Friday, 22 October 2010

1000s of repossessed houses up for sale

Anyone wanting to buy a house right now should start by checking out the repossessed properties that all the banks have listed on their websites (or websites hosted by some other company on their behalf).

This week I was wondering what prices were like in the repossessions and auction markets because, frankly, I’m flabbergasted at just how much money people are currently spending on properties.

I regularly see sales of luxury homes costing R38-million in Constantia, R54-million in Sandhurst or a staggering average price of R11,8-million in Clifton. That’s not for some mighty mansion, but for one of those pokey little apartments with no parking that scorches under the blaze of the setting sun.

I set about researching some of the auction and repossession websites and found some interesting information lurking in the pages: first of all, if you thought that houses in the middle- and low-income groups were the only ones being auctioned or repossessed, think again.

There are screeds and screeds of properties with bonds of R3-million and more listed by the banks. There are even properties of close to R10-million listed alongside the rather quaint commentary that the estimated bond repayment is R87,973,38.

To afford that sort of bond, the monthly household income would have to be at least three times that, at about R265,000. Some people in South Africa are obviously earning great sums of money.

None of the banks’ websites give any clear indication of whether or not the offer you might make will be accepted but there are guidelines: for instance, on one property I saw the asking price was R2,5-million but the best offer received so far was R1,8-million or R700k less.

It hasn’t yet been accepted (so I guess the bank is waiting for someone to offer a bit more) but if no-one does offer more for the property then it will probably be accepted and somebody will have just saved himself or herself a fistful of money.
I tried to establish exactly how many properties in possession are listed by the banks but they clearly are not too keen to publish this information so you have to laboriously count the properties that are listed. And, predictably, some of the information on the website itself is bound to be out of date too.

My calculations reveal that there are at least 5,000 properties in possession among all the banks but that is probably a hopelessly low estimate because the banks do not provide any kind of full disclosure when it comes to these figures.
What it does tell me though are some other interesting things:

- At least 5,000 families have lost their homes and are probably living in rented accommodation or have moved back to the family home;

- The banks will have to protect these properties from being vandalised at an enormous cost to their shareholders. Any property that stands empty for more than a couple of days is bound to have its fixtures and fittings stripped out by greedy thieves;

- There are at least 5,000 bargain properties to be had in the current market in places that many people would like to live;

- The prices that are reflected on the websites are a guideline and nothing more.

Of course the range of properties on offer is enormous and, I suppose, in the main centres of Johannesburg and Pretoria, Cape Town and Mandela Bay, Durban and Bloemfontein the number of properties in possession is predictably higher than in the more remote, smaller cities such as Kimberley.
Absa, which has an unusually unfriendly website of repossessed properties provides simple guidelines on the asking price only and it lists the least number of properties in possession despite claiming to be the largest mortgage lender in the country.

I find this strange but I must admit that I find a lot of things about Absa strange and I’m not sure that the information on its website reflects the true picture. That’s academic, however, because the real point of the exercise was to establish whether there are bargains to be had from the banks directly.

And it certainly seems that there are.

Of course, some people might like to actually attend the auction sales when a distressed property is sold in a particular suburb. But for those people like me who have to work for a living, it makes sense to browse through the properties that are available and then make an offer directly to the bank (or in some cases, to the estate agent working for the bank).

Of course this was another anomaly for me: why, if the bank is advertising properties in possession would it want to pay an estate agent to market the property for them. That’s me being na├»ve because, I suppose, the banks are putting the house on show (via the agent) every weekend to prevent vandalism and, hopefully, to get an offer that vaguely resembles the price being asked.

And, worse than that, they’ve probably negotiated a specially low commission rate with the agent too because that’s the way the banks work.

So if I were about to buy a house I would start off with the properties in possession and then I would make a ridiculously low offer for the property. The worst that can happen is the offer is rejected and you have to revise the price.
More importantly, where there is an agent listed for the property, I’d insist inspecting the property as soon as possible. The reality is that these properties do get stripped, vandalised and damaged. And the garden, the swimming pool and those pretty ponds soon become an eyesore and you will have to pay for all the necessary repairs yourself – or insert special conditions in the purchase agreement stipulating what remedial work must be done before occupation.

The other thing to ensure is that you will be absolved of all liability when it comes to electricity, rates and taxes. While these charges are obviously not for your account, more and more councils are refusing to reconnect services or provide clearance certificates if there is an outstanding amount on the previous account.
This means, of course, that the bank would have to pay these charges and not you. But what’s the point of moving into a new house and then discovering that you can’t get the electricity supply connected until the outstanding account of R69,781 has been paid. So make sure that these things are tied up and sorted out when you sign the offer to purchase.

If you can’t find a house that you like through the properties in possession of banks then scour the neighbourhood for auction sale signs and watch the Thursday and Friday editions of the newspapers as these usually carry details of auctions that are pending or properties about to be repossessed too.

There are thousands of bargains to be had in the auction and repossessed property market and while it may seem rather mercenary, the reality is that the banks and the auction houses want to dispose of the property as quickly as possible.

So keep your eyes open wide.

*Hartdegen writes a regular column for Property24.com. The content of his columns constitutes his personal opinion and doesn’t pretend to be facts or advice.

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