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Follow these guidelines to ensure that you make the right decision

South Africa's residential landscape is rapidly changing, with developments springing up in every town. From entry level priced units to prime golf estates, the concept is the answer to the growing need for lock-up-and-go living within a secure environment.

"The growth of the development sector is phenomenal at the moment," says Kevin Mountjoy, Bond Choice inland sales director. Property currently rates as one the best asset classes in South Africa, showing returns of between 15 and 25 percent per annum over the last five years, which is why home buyers and investors alike are clamouring to get into the market. However, buyers need to do some homework before signing on the dotted line in order to safeguard their interests.

Home buyers should consider these important factors when looking at a development:

The golden rule in property is location, not only in relation to work place, schools and amenitie5-J but also in terms of security, with some areas more prone to crime than others. Speak to police and prominent estate agents in the area for an independent opinion, and ask the developer about the security measures to be implemented.

Sectional title
Most units in developments are sold under sectional title ownership today, which means that, in addition to buying your specified living area, you will also probably be buying the exclusive use of areas such as your driveway and garden. You will automatically become part owner of what is known as common property in the development, as well as a member of the body corporate. Broadly speaking, there are three types of sectional title developments:

Phased developments are usually large and will, as the name suggests, comprise a certain number of phases to be built over a period of time.

Exclusive developments generally comprise townhouses, simplexes or duplexes and are usually smaller than phase developments with all units being built simultaneously.

Duet development : Two homes are built on a single stand after a sectional title register has been opened.

Cluster homes
Some cluster home developments offer an alternative to sectional title ownership, where owners hold individual titles to the units and their gardens, along with shares in the common property. While in these instances there won't be bodies corporate, the norm is for owners to form home owners' associations to handle general issues such as maintenance and administration, sharing the costs in the form of a monthly levy.

Buying off plan
The main benefit of buying off plan is that you don't pay transfer duty if the developer is a VAT registered vendor, which is a significant saving. Also, you get in 'at ground level', and it's common for the price to go up once the first phases are complete. However, there are risks to this method of buying, so it's important to deal with a developer who has a proven track record. Another important check is to ensure that the developer is using a reputable builder. "Your purchase agreement will be with the developer, so any dispute you might have regarding unsatisfactory workmanship, delays or building defects must be directed to the developer and not to the builder or the financial institution financing the development. It is always important to read your agreement carefully.

Your deposit
It is standard practice to pay the developer a deposit to secure your unit. Before you part with any money, have a look around the show house to get an idea of the quality that you can expect for the rest of the units, then get in writing exactly what you'll be getting for your money. Insist on looking at the site plan to ascertain the exact location and style of the units, enquire about how many phases are being planned and get a firm commitment from the developer in terms of completion date. Once you've signed the purchase agreement, you will put your deposit into an attorney's trust account, not to be touched by the developer. You will then only have to pay the balance of monies owing on transfer of the unit into your name.

Buying into an established sectional title development
In some ways this is a lot easier, although usually more expensive because you can see what you're getting. But again you need to ascertain some facts. Firstly, ensure that the body corporate is financially sound by asking to see a copy of the latest audited financial statements. Then, find out what the monthly levy is and if there are any special levies required for future projects, bearing in mind that well-run developments often have healthy reserve funds in place to pay for major future expenses. This information is available either through the body corporate or the managing agent if the development employs such a person. If you're not sure of your way around financial statements, don't allow yourself to be rushed into making a decision and signing the purchase agreement. After all, when you sign the agreement it is binding. Currently involved in over 170 new developments, valued at over R9 billion, Bond Choice is well positioned to offer the best advice on first time buying, holiday home and investment buying, up or down sizing, and we will use our industry knowledge to assist you, the buyer, to get the best investment value from your purchase.

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