A real-estate dilemma: buying new versus buying used
by Scot Murray
- Richard Meier, the world-renowned Pritzker Prize-winning architect, was recently asked by Lucy Cohen Blatter whether he would prefer living in a new development or a re-sale property. His answer was not what you might think. He chose the re-sale property. For him, it had to do with vegetation and landscaping, which in a re-sale property would be more mature than in a new build. But what caught my eye was his comment on second-hand quality, which I immediately compared to the Ghana property market. As he put it, “you can find a very high-quality resale property… You just have to be more careful when buying it.”
Meier makes an assumption that most of you reading this article would agree with – buying new is better than buying used. To purchase a home that will be handed over brand new means that you are buying the best quality available in the market, a home at the very beginning of its hopefully long-lasting and low-maintenance life. Now I have not conducted any surveys of recent home buyers to make any statistically valid observations, but anecdotally, from speaking with numerous people, it seems like there is a general disappointment with the recent crop of Accra’s prime new homes and apartments. Plumbing issues top the list, followed by problems with cracks and water penetration. Garbage management also get mentioned, as does unusual floor plans and design mistakes, like no power point for a hair dryer in a bathroom. On the other hand, a twenty-year old development in Ridge, called Taysec Gardens, developed by the company’s old guard, is a quintessential solid build. Walk in, throw up a new coat of paint and it is better than most of the new stock coming up today.
The problem with buying new, especially when you’re buying off-plan and not shown a finished example, is that you are buying based on hype. It’s almost as if you’ve seen a new car ad and are buying it before Car & Driver or Consumer Reports have issued their reviews. That’s obviously a risk. So why when it comes to buying an apartment in Accra do almost all shy away from the three or four-year-old developments? Shouldn’t the transparency of what you’re purchasing make those apartments more sought after? The problem is that when the hype is gone, reality does not look quite so bright. And the uncomfortable truth is that much of the recent construction is below expectation. When you finally see it and consider the price, it doesn’t seem worth it.
I was recently approached by interior designers, telling me that various surface treatments and feature walls were required “for buyers to see the quality with their own eyes.” Another vendor presented to me the latest in home automations, explaining that buyers want convenience these days: “people don’t want to stand up and have to open their blinds in the morning.”
Here’s the bottom line. We need to do away with the “window dressing” and double down on the basics. Building after building in Accra is promoted as high-quality, even luxury, only to be snubbed by buyers just a few years later. There needs to be a return to quality without breaking the bank. There should be a brand that buyers can trust so implicitly that buying a new home becomes easy again. For it is only when this happens that Meier’s quote will ring true – that buying a re-sale property requires you to be more careful than buying new.
In the Accra market, for now, we have to flip this advice around. Buying a re-sale property means you know what you’re getting – whether good or bad – whereas buying new requires you to be more careful. Everything you see now built was once hyped. What percentage of these lived up to high praise, do you think? Whatever your answer might be, I trust your skepticism has gone up. Allow it to. That’s what’s going to prevent you from falling for the hype, buying too quickly, and making a money mistake with three zeros on the end of it.
Scot Murray is the Managing Director of Denya Developers. He and Ernest Hanson, the Managing Director of Beaufort Properties, write a column on the property market in Accra. You can contact them at +233268315111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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