To build or to buy - that is the question
There’s nothing quite like a home that is purpose-built for your needs, but for most South Africans, the thought of building a house from scratch is more than a little overwhelming.
The good news is, with a little help and a lot of planning, it's definitely possible to build the house of your dreams.
Bill Rawson, chairman of the Rawson Property Group and experienced property developer, walks us through some of the main steps you'll need to take as you venture into the world of owner-built homes.
Be realistic about building costs "One of the most important things to understand and accept before building a house in South Africa is that it's highly unlikely to be the cheapest option," says Rawson.
He explains that our relatively high construction costs tend to make building significantly more expensive than buying, although new construction techniques on the market - like steel- and timber-framed homes can narrow this gap by a fair margin.
As a rule, however, he does not advise building if your interest is purely financial. "It makes much better sense to renovate and sell if profit is your motivation," he says. "If you're willing to pay a bit more to live in your perfect home, on the other hand, building could be an ideal choice for you."
Find the right land Location is an essential consideration for any home, but when you're planning on building from scratch, it's not just proximity to good shops, schools and neighbours that you have to think about.
"You'll need to consider accessibility for construction vehicles, and access to power and water for the construction process," says Rawson, "not to mention getting a professional survey done to pick up on any slopes, drainage issues, soil types and underlying rocks that could cause problems."
Zoning is also an important factor, as some even have restrictions that limit building options. Rawson recommends double-checking zoning status and getting a copy of the site plan before making an offer.
Understand building loans
A building loan is quite different from an ordinary mortgage, and Rawson says it's important to understand these differences before signing on to the building process. "For starters, building loans aren't lump sums," he says. "You don't get paid the full amount of your loan to manage as you please - the bank gives you instalments based on the progress their assessor sees on site. That means if progress is delayed, or you hit unforeseen problems, you might not have immediate access to the capital you need." For this reason, Rawson recommends putting aside the equivalent of a 10% - 20% deposit to use as an emergency fund in case of unexpected expenses.
Get professional plans
To qualify for bank financing, you'll need to have a comprehensive construction quote based on accurate specifications and finishes schedules.
These are much easier to get with the help of an experienced architect, who can not only help to make your design dreams a reality, but also keep them within your budget. "The more accurate your initial drawings are, the better your chances are of securing the appropriate financing, but enlisting the services of an architect can add a lot more value than just that," says Rawson.
"When it comes to project management, the right architect can save you immeasurable time, stress and money, and those savings tend to more than make up for their professional fees."
Expect the unexpected
"There is no such thing as a perfect construction process," says Rawson. "Every single building project comes with at least a few gremlins. For this reason, it's a good idea to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for surprises, and have a little cash on hand to deal with unexpected expenses."
Rawson also warns that very few building projects run 100% according to schedule, so you shouldn't bank on having access to a completed home on the exact date your contractor has promised. "Try to keep some flexibility in your accommodation options while you're building," says Rawson. "You don't want to find yourself with nowhere to stay because things are taking longer than expected."
Choose a quality contractor
Of all the things you need to consider when building your own home, Rawson says a quality contractor is the most important. "Nothing makes the building process more
As a rule he does not advise building if your interest is purely financial.
stressful than a contractor who doesn't deliver on his promises," he says.
Sadly, it's not always easy to tell good builders from bad, which is why Rawson recommends only considering contractors with plenty of contactable references.
"If at all possible, go with a word-of-mouth recommendation from someone you trust, or get your architect to appoint a contractor from their own trusted pool," he says.
"It's also a good idea, if possible, to pay a visit to your prospective contractor's recently completed projects to make sure that their workmanship is up to snuff."