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Are student houses a good investment or not?

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I have touched on this topic before but I feel I should revisit it.

From the outset I must state that I have never advised anyone to buy a house as a student res.

Why not?

Well, the norm is to buy a pretty decent family home and convert it into a student hostel by adding rooms in the lounge, dining room, maid’s room and garages.

Essentially killing its appeal as a normal family home.

Recently, student house owners have had to register with the varsities to enable students with bursaries to stay with them.

Not only do the rooms now have to comply with size and fitting requirements, but the houses have to be zoned/registered with the municipality.

The reason being that these houses are zoned as single-family units and not as boarding houses or blocks of apartments, which is essentially what they have become.

These owners also have to provide a full set of approved building plans.

This can be a daunting and expensive task as municipal plans departments have lost most of the original approved plans.

As a result, most of the alterations that these student house owners have done were done illegally without building department approval.

A large number of these student homes are coming on to the market for resale at prices that the owners think that they should get in order to cover the cost of buying, plus the alterations that they have done and based on the perceived income that they would get from letting rooms out to students.

But here comes the nub.

The unapproved alterations are just that: unapproved.

Whoever owns the property will at some point need to have to tell the municipality about the changes and pay for proper plans to be drawn up and approved.

There is also a strong possibility that where these changes don’t comply the owner will need to have them demolished.

Don’t think that it won’t happen – there is a very strong chance that it will.

On top of that, what was a neat family home when it was bought has possibly been occupied by young students for five years or more.

Students are not known for being the most house proud of people and are usually very hard on any property that they occupy.

Bathrooms are likely to be in rather poor shape as is the kitchen.

Carpets are likely to be worn and dirty.

Fittings tired and chipped.

In other words, the value of the property is likely to be very much less that a normal family occupied house.

Investors in student homes are finding out that it is far from the massive income and investment that it is often calculated to be when buying a student home.

Firstly, students don’t occupy student accommodation for 12 months per year.

They are actually only at varsity from February to November each year, so don’t want to pay for those three months when they are not there.

Students don’t normally have much in the way of funding, so there is a great potential for them to disappear when funds run out.

Typically, in July a substantial percentage of students stop being students for a variety of reasons.

Course failure is a big one but running out of funds is also very common.

Assuming you have a 10-room student house, this could mean no income for 25 percent of the time and 20 percent of the students not renting beyond July each year.

When students disappear in July that means no income on that room from July until the end of January (seven months!).

Many student house owners underestimate the cost of running their student houses.

Rates are likely to be raised far higher than a normal house, after all you are now running a business from those premises and if your zoning is not right you can be charged penalty rates too.

Students won’t look after the house for you – they will just use and abuse it.

Who is going to clean the inside and who is going to keep the garden in good order?

Just taking out the rubbish will require somebody to come and do it – the students won’t.

Students need supervision, which is fine in a 200-student accommodation property but very difficult for an individual student house.

Students are party animals and can be very noisy which frequently disturbs neighbours. 

Neighbours are quite likely to take you to court for noise, dirt, unkempt gardens and much more.

While you can hear I don’t think that student homes are a good idea, hopefully this article will give you a chance to think twice before buying a house for student housing.

  • Mike Spencer is the founder and owner of Platinum Global. He is also a professional associated property valuer and consultant with work across the country as well as Eastern Europe and Australia.

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Property

City properties need a touch-up to remain attractive

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DILAPIDATED PROPERTIES . . . Older buildings built before the 1980s are in many cases in need of major upgrades

It is apparent that there are more and more buildings, especially in Bloemfontein’s central areas, that are standing vacant and are in a very poor state of repair.

Why is this?

Some of these properties are commercial properties and all buildings have a life cycle.

When new they are effective and efficient but they age physically and socially over the years.

A modern office building is designed very differently from the one that was built in the 1930s.

Young people probably won’t understand how different the working environment was just 30-40 years ago.

At that time there were no computers, no photo copy machines, no fax machines and no cellphones.

Everything was manual – making copies was done by adding extra pages into a manual typewriter with carbon paper inbetween.

Transportation was also very different.

Yes, there were cars but most people did not have one and travelled to work by public transport.

Thus, buildings had little or no parking.

The old UBS building on the corner of Hoffman Square and the mall in Bloemfontein is a 6000-square-metre six-storey building with only 20 basement parking bays.

The Cuthbert’s building opposite has none!

Such buildings have no attraction to modern businesses and are relegated to third-class status.

Having lower incomes, they are marginal properties that are not well maintained and, in many cases, do not generate any net profit income at all.

No wonder they are in the condition that they are in, especially as they can only attract the lowest and poorest class of tenant.

In reality many areas in town should be demolished and regenerated as modern areas to attract business back.

Having said that, the lack of control and enforcement of rules and regulations by council is to blame for many of the woes of city properties.

How can an active council allow buildings to stand in a semi-demolished condition without chasing the owner to fix them up?

Uncollected rubbish, unfixed lights and robots and potholes all tend to diminish the desirability of an area, resulting in lower rentals and a greater problem of deteriorated buildings.

We are now seeing similar problems with some residential buildings.

This is not usually in single residential buildings as when the area gets cheap enough, there appears a type of buyer that can afford to buy up these dilapidated buildings and improve them.

Wilgehof is a great example of this happening.

Built in the 1950s by the Department of Community Development, it used to be an area for poor people but because of its central position and new developments such as Saratoga, the area has grown in stature and improved immensely in condition.

This cannot be said of other areas such as Willows, where lawlessness is rife because of lack of enforcement by the metro.

This is one of the least safe areas in the city and nearly all the family occupants have moved away.

Sectional title legislation also has not made it easy to maintain some older sectional title blocks.

These are community living units with multiple owners.

Older buildings built before the 1980s are in many cases in need of major upgrades, including rewiring and modern electrical connections as well as replumbing of old rusted piping.

But owners have different reasons for owning these properties and there are often conflicts of interest.

One owner living there wants the building to be maintained to a high standard while a landlord owner is looking at the return he obtains and wants the levies as low as possible.

Most owners object to what is perceived as high levies which are necessary to collect enough reserves to be able to tackle these problems resulting in a continuous deterioration in the condition of these buildings.

Current law that makes it near impossible to chase owners who do not pay levies and tenants that do not pay rental and service fees just makes the situation worse.

Again, the difficulty in getting rid of bad tenants such as drug pushers kills most of these buildings.

The current state of the economy does little to make things better.

The high level of rates and taxes and lack of services tends to make it unprofitable for landlords and COVID-19 has reduced the demand for commercial properties.

Theft and vandalism in vacant buildings is a major problem that, combined with low demand, has resulted in many dilapidated buildings around town.

There is no easy solution but it would help if much of the red tape and bias was removed from the property industry.

  • Mike Spencer is the founder and owner of Platinum Global. He is also a professional associated property valuer and consultant with work across the country as well as Eastern Europe and Australia.

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Property

Brain drain threatens property industry

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SECTOR NOT SPARED . . . South Africa is losing potential property buyers through emigration

South Africa is faced with a potentially damaging brain involving both newly qualified and experienced professionals across different disciplines.

I will not limit this topic to professionals in the property industry only because whatever happens in one sector has a direct impact on all matters property.

I will explain briefly: if a teacher, medical doctor, artisan or engineer decide to seek greener pastures abroad, it means the property sector has lost some potential customers who were either going to rent at some point or buy their own property.

Of course, some might decide to invest back home, but that possibility is not always guaranteed.

We have also seen professionals in the property industry such as architects, estate agents and quantity surveyors leaving the country, thereby directly impacting on the work done in the sector.

Practically, every time the economy gets tough it is natural for skilled professionals to look for more active areas to live and work in.

This might mean moving to the Cape from the interior because it is perceived that the government of these areas is better as are the opportunities for these professionals.

Artificial barriers to employment for these professionals can result in them seeing opportunities overseas that are not available to them here.

This is what is happening now, and has been happening for some time.

Highly skilled professionals are moving overseas in the search of better opportunities.

Typical of this would be my son who has an accounting degree and another one in internal auditing.

He is a determined and hard-working professional.

Notwithstanding that he can be seen as being at the top of his profession, he found himself being bypassed by less qualified and experienced people here.

The result was that he was required to do the job for his boss.

He eventually went overseas and has gained far higher and well-paid positions because of his abilities – at a total loss to the South African economy.

This is happening in every sphere of professionalism here, especially among the younger family generation.

Political interference, such as state capture, is also resulting in highly qualified black professionals seeing their future overseas.

America and Europe as well as Australia and New Zealand welcome these well-trained and ambitious people with open arms.

They are seen as hard working and innovative people.

It is amazing how many of these South Africans rise to the top of their professions.

Just think how much Elon Musk would have contributed working in South Africa today.

How can this emigration be stopped?

The answer is simple: just make it attractive for these people to stay.

Get rid of the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment and allow promotion on merit.

How can you select doctors on colour and not on their academic results?

Taking a person with C grades against one with A grades just does not make sense.

We need to do away with biased allocation of tenders – get rid of racial undertones and appoint people on their ability to do the job.

A huge problem is going to occur is when the current older generation of professionals retire.

Few new property valuers are coming through because it is a profession that requires a high level of understanding of building processes and detailed comparisons of past data.

Schooling is simply not orientated towards creating administrators and professionals and South Africa is going to see a dearth of professionals over the next few years.

  • Mike Spencer is the founder and owner of Platinum Global. He is also a professional associated property valuer and consultant with work across the country as well as Eastern Europe and Australia.

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Property

Thoroughly inspect the property before buying

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I recently wrote about the new law making it compulsory for sellers to make a declaration about the condition of the property they are putting on the market so that the buyer is fully aware of its condition including faults that may need to be fixed.

I am told there is a Gauteng family that bought a house at an auction only to find it occupied by “illegal tenants” who did not want to move out.

I have been asked discuss how this can be avoided or addressed.

My advice is simple: sellers should declare what they know about the property and they should draw up a contract that makes it clear that the buyer is buying a property that he/she has seen and done the necessary investigations on their own.

The new law regarding seller declarations has only just come into force and it’s not surprising some people could be facing challenges when buying property and don’t know how the new law could assist them.

To begin with, the new law means that the seller is required to declare any faults or condition of the building that is being sold or those that he should reasonably be aware of.

Remember sellers seldom have the skills necessary to know whether or not there were, for example, problems with the foundations unless these had caused problems in the past.

In my opinion, this is yet another piece of legislation that gives more rights to purchasers than they should have.

While I am happy that sellers should indicate any serious problems that they were aware of or should have been aware of, it should also be a requirement that a buyer should understand that they are not buying a new property and should take reasonable care to know what they are buying.

This includes the physical state of the building and anything else that could be going on at the property.

It has always been the case that a seller could never deliberately hide problems – for example, cover over serious dampness with a bookcase or not let a buyer know about roof leaks.

But, in my opinion, it is simply making it more difficult to contract freely.

On the other hand, buyers should carefully look at properties that they are considering buying.

Nobody can expect them to climb into roof spaces and again buyers cannot be considered experts in buildings.

Normally serious problems would be visible from the inside or outside of a property.

Both sellers and buyers should look carefully to see that water flows properly and that there are no serious problems with the building on the market.

They should also remember that not every small defect is a problem.

I have lived in my house for over 45 years.

Is it perfect?

No.

But those small problems – little cracks or a solar system that trips if there is especially heavy rain are not serious problems.

Bottom line: one is buying a second-hand product and not a new one.

It is therefore important to thoroughly inspect it and be sure about its availability before entering into or concluding any purchase agreement.

  • Mike Spencer is the founder and owner of Platinum Global. He is also a professional associated property valuer and consultant with work across the country as well as Eastern Europe and Australia.

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