First-time movers: be prepared and avoid costly mistakes
February 12, 2020
Getting your own place? Read these essential tips before you pick your own home.
Moving out, moving on – whether it’s your first flat or a new start, there’s no need for stress.
Finding, managing and affording a rental by yourself can be a challenge, no matter what age you are. These tips are for teens, twenty-somethings or adults of any age starting a new life in a new home.
This simple and practical how-to will help you choose the perfect pad at the right price before you make the move.
How to choose and afford your first place
1. Safety first
Pick the safest area you can afford and look at the security in the dwelling you’re considering. You may have to weigh costs up to strike a good balance for your needs. Burglar bars and heavy-duty security gates are important, but if the area has a low break-in rate, or you’re not going to be away or out a lot (say you work from home), an alarm may not be totally mandatory. Think of armed response as an investment rather than an expense. A tech start-up like SEON sends the nearest armed response officer right to you using mobile GPS; you’re not limited to one security company!
2. Make sure it’s affordable
As a rule of thumb, rent should never be more than 25% of your income. Besides your expenses (healthcare, pet care, car maintenance, clothing, fuel, etc.), having your own place comes with a host of other annual, monthly and even daily expenses and overheads. There could be regular electricity bills, you may pay rates, water and refuse charges, and you may be responsible for basic maintenance and even minor repairs to the property. And this is all before you’ve had anything to eat.
TIP: Look for a spot with a set rental that includes some amenities, for example water, or water and lights. This makes it easier to estimate your expenses every month.
3. Check everything first
An old apartment block may have tricky plumbing that results in burst geysers, flooded apartments and knock-on damages. A new apartment block may have been built very quickly and some essential, life-preserving regulations skipped. Make sure the building is approved, secure and properly maintained before you consider other aspects.
4. Have proof of income or someone to sign surety
A rental contract usually requires verified proof that the tenant can afford the regular rental payments. This may be in the form of an employment contract or payslip. Income can be harder to show or estimate if you are a casual worker, a freelancer, a gig worker (e.g. with Uber, Uber Eats or Fiverr), work part-time (e.g. au pair or carer), on commission (sales), have a poor (or no) credit record, have your own small business or are receiving an allowance (say from your parents or a trust fund). If you can’t come to a consensus with the owner, there may be relative, life partner or close friend willing to sign for you and take the financial risk on your behalf.
TIP: If you’ve just started a salaried job and don’t yet have your first payslip, your employment contract could also serve as proof of income.
5. Share to shave costs
If you’re on a tight budget, you could share a room to start, and work your way up to sharing an apartment or house with your own room. This way, you can pool your resources and buy food and other household items in bulk, cook larger meals for everyone (which saves on energy as well as time), and divide household chores between housemates to save on cleaning costs.
TIP: If you live in a complex, and are busy, order the groceries for a few apartments online, and split the delivery costs between all parties to save time and cash.
6. Check the contract. Twice.
Are (all) the figures in the rental contract? It should cover both parties’ responsibilities and rights, and detail expenses and other financial considerations. Every rental contract is individual, especially if you rent from a private owner rather than an agency or body corporate of a building. But it should still be thorough and fair to all parties signing. What does the rent include? Make sure your verbal agreement is reflected in the official one. Rates, pets, liability – it must all be in there (with details). The contract is your go-to if there’s ever a misunderstanding or disagreement. Arguing it out in court later can be very costly. If it’s your first time and there’s nobody to advise you, consider having an authority like a lawyer look at it before you sign to be sure you’re safe.
TIP: If something comes up after, LegalWise.co.za advises that “the Rental Housing Tribunal is an independent body that resolves disputes of unfair practices between landlords and tenants” in the Western Cape. Check your local government website for other regions.
7. Beyond rent: pick a place that costs less to run
Other expenses add up quickly and it helps to start smaller with something you’re certain you can afford. Don’t be fooled by deals that are too good to be true, though. A cheap apartment on the top floor may have poor insulation and rack up huge costs in aircon to keep it cool in summer. A mouldy basement apartment below ground level may cost less than a ground-level one but make you sick and result in debilitating medical bills. Good ventilation and positioning make all the difference. Ideally, you want a spot that gets adequate shade in summer, faces north for natural heating in winter, and has utilities (e.g. the geyser) that are insulated.
TIP: Speak to the owner about having the geyser or roof insulated to save you both money in the long run and strike a deal for this that suits everyone’s budget.
8. Know thy hidden costs
It’s important to work out how much the hidden extras will set you back each month. Electricity consumption may double in winter while standalone gas heaters are more economical than electricity-fed heating. Air conditioners can cost a lot to run in summer. A building complex may charge extra for a recycling service. Some estates charge a levy for gate security and maintenance of driveways/private roads. You may be obliged to pay for a contracted security company, plumbing contractor or other maintenance and security services in a townhouse village. Checking this beforehand can help you avoid having your dream home turned into a financial nightmare as expenses build up.
TIP: In some areas popular with tourists you may be required to move out for peak season (during which time alternative short-term accommodation in the region may be at a premium!). You may go home for the summer season, anyway, but if you’re staying in the area, plan for this well in advance to save yourself time and money.
9. Save on overheads and save the world
Unless you’re running a pottery kiln or furnace (you can’t, though – that’s industrial-level energy usage), geysers and ovens are responsible for most of a home’s power consumption over the course of a year. You can set the geyser on a timer instead of running it 24/7, say two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening for a house of four. Many newer geysers warm up in only 40 minutes and stay warm for a few hours (or until all the warm water in it is used and replaced by cold water). Consider more stovetop cooking and fewer baked meals. You can also repurpose your grey water in the garden and save cash while you save the area’s water levels.
TIP: Save and dispose of all your single-use plastic in homemade eco-bricks (here’s how). It will eat polystyrene, packets and plastic-laminated paper packaging (which can’t be recycled). Not only can you build things with it, the way you would with ordinary bricks, but it will also hugely reduce the ‘waste’ you send to the landfill, for which you may be paying a monthly fee. The bonus is that the dolphins, birds and critters will thank you for not poisoning their waterways, soils and stomachs.
10. Already in? Cut your costs in the kitchen by being clever.
Whatever the setup, there are safe workarounds to reduce the costs of having your own home. We already mentioned that geysers can be insulated and that gas heaters are cheaper than electric ones. It turns out that gas stoves are also a lot more affordable than electric ones. And they’re safe as long as all users remember to switch off the stove, and the gas bottle after use.
TIP: You can make stews, soups and other dishes using a cooking bag and save on gas or electricity. All you do is bring the dish to boiling point with the lid on, then pop it in the bag and let it stand. The locally made Wonderbag will soon pay for itself in power savings. Slow-cooked meals from a cooking bag are tastier, too.
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