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Build, buy or rent?
Pyramids of Cheops
some things to consider before moving house

Setting up house is one of those milestones in life that most of us look forward to, especially when it is for the first time. Having lived with others, usually family who have taken care of the day-today running of the home, little experience has been gained of responsibilities relating to the actual ownership or tenancy. The paying of bills, repairs, maintenance and insurance was always someone else's concern. These issues, it is assumed, can be dealt with at a later date, if necessary. For now, the chance of independence has arrived and is all that matters. Those who have already been down this path know it isn't that simple. In fact, anyone changing their residence, whether it be for the first or fifth time, can discover unexpected eventualities or circumstances that make the move less desirable than was imagined. Whether building, buying, or renting, there are a number of important aspects to be considered before jumping in.

First, I'd like to mention last month's Focus article on Feng Shui. If you know nothing about this ancient Chinese philosophy, it may seem totally irrelevant, but I can assure you it is anything but. Being dedicated to buildings and the rooms within them, its teachings offer suggestions on improvements to a dwelling that will help achieve a better lifestyle, plus what to look for when house-hunting. I can recommend considering the principles of Feng Shui, but if you choose to simply go your own way, that's fine - you'll probably be thinking along the same lines anyway without realising it. As for the following Western-influenced contribution, I hope you may find something of use.

Money does matter, and when it comes to residences, having insufficient at the right time can cause problems far beyond the pocket and the bank account. Renting a house or apartment seems easy enough, always assuming there is a vacancy in a convenient area. If not, this could mean extra expense and time travelling to and from work and schools, not to mention the shops - when the cheaper supermarkets are miles away, increased fuel costs can easily wipe out any savings on specials. This comes later, of course. Initially, there is usually a bond to pay, plus a certain amount of rent in advance. There may also be a levy not included in the rent for "certain services". This extra may only be small, but will still impact on the budget. Don't forget to go through the place with a fine-tooth comb, detailing existing faults - shonky landlords have been known to withhold refund of the bond as compensation, even though the vacating tenant was not responsible. If the residence has a garden, the tenant will most likely be expected to tend it. That means both time and money for watering, fertiliser, mowing etcetera. Personal experience confirms how costly this can be. Although insurance of the building is the owner's responsibility, it is advisable to read the policy fine-print to make sure aspects such as accidental breakages and damage are covered. If not, these will have to be made good and provision for cover ought to be included in the contents insurance which will need to be taken out. By adding up these "incidentals" it is easy to see why many first-timers end up broke and back with Mum and Dad. Those who do manage to weather the storm can settle down and work towards buying a home of their own.

Generally, this next step in the property game is an exciting prospect. Unlike renting, which was often just a case of finding an affordable place in a hurry, apartment- or house-hunting is a joy to be savoured. Even those who have no intention of buying derive immense pleasure from viewing homes for sale, maybe looking for ideas or simply to give their wilting dreams a boost - a bit like those brochures they keep sending for of exotic holidays they are never likely to take. The serious ones are, perhaps, even more susceptible to this kind of euphoria because they know that anything in their price-range could well become their new home; and that heady feeling can divert attention from some of the less-obvious financial pitfalls. It must be remembered that, once the deal is signed and sealed, there's no going back. Faults not evident until after the new owner has moved in will be at their expense and, unlike renting, home-ownership is normally long-term. A decision to sell up even a year down the track can result in huge losses.

Before a home goes on the market, the seller will attempt to make it appealing. An astute buyer will be on the lookout for band-aid repairs, those bodgie jobs that seem okay at a glance, but aren't going to last much longer than the signing of the contract. Fresh paint is okay as long as the colour scheme isn't hideous, and provided it wasn't splashed on to hide signs of a roof-leak or creeping mould. Termites are a problem in some countries and the extensive damage they can cause isn't necessarily visible: a few coats of paint may be all that's left of woodwork, both decorative and structural. Depending on the season when the buyer visits the house, some disadvantages may not be apparent. Is the heater efficient, and the air-conditioner; and do they actually work? A poorly-drained garden that floods, or gutters and down-pipes that are inefficient for whatever reason won't be obvious until the rains come; and a place that is an oven in summer might seem pleasantly comfortable during spring. A back-yard pool is a real selling-point, and if the kids see it they will pester the living daylights out of their parents to buy - they will, naturally, help with the cleaning (yeah, right!), but won't mention the cost of maintenance because the olds have got that covered, haven't they? There are too many other money-eaters to list here, but any problem that will require attention after the sale goes through is going to cost the new owner to fix. Properties advertised as a "renovator's dream" or in need of some TLC definitely fall into this category. One answer is to have the property inspected by professionals. That, I'm afraid, is money spent merely for an appraisal, cash that isn't refundable whether the place is bought or not; and it won't necessarily bring all the defects to light; but without it, the risk could prove too great in the long run.

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