A guide to house building in South Africa

A guide to house building in South Africa

Planning: Building timelines

House plans

How long does it take to build a house in South Africa?

Once all your plans are approved and your admin is done, there is no reason a house cannot be built in eight months. But don’t bank on it.

The biggest time obstacles to building a house are the following:


Try and time the start of a build to summer if you live in the Western Cape and winter if you live in Gauteng. Rain during excavations and foundation work is a huge setback. Not so much once you’re ‘out of ground’ and have a solid slab underfoot. Similarly, you should be reaching dry season again once the roof construction starts.

Material delays

A well-run building site has to have a steady stream of materials arriving, but nothing leaves the suppliers until the money has cleared in the bank account.

Waiting for materials eats away time. A few hours here, a few days there and before you know it you’ve lost a month. Daily planning between foreman, project manager and admin (whoever pays) is absolutely crucial. Some items, like window frames, require 6 weeks lead time, so make sure you know well ahead of the time what’s needed when.

Basically, if you’re not steadily spending large sums of money, there’s a problem. Also plan where the next load of 6000 bricks must go. Using the labour force to move piles of bricks, sand or cement that might be blocking access for trucks also causes delays.

Council or NHBRC delays

No building can start until all your paperwork is approved, stamped and sealed. Really.

If you did not enroll your project with NHBRC before you started your foundations, you will require a Late Enrollment submission. You can expect at least a one month delay, best case scenario. And lots of extra head aches and costs.

Any transgressions on your plans, or a fair complaint and council can shut down your site until further investigation.


Having a building site next door is never fun. Neighbours naturally tend to become agitated (at best) or aggressive (at worst). Take it as given that at least one neighbor will call either council or a local resident’s association with a complaint during your build.

Make sure you are sticking to all the rules and have all your paperwork in order. If you are found to be breaching a regulation, all building will have to cease.

Secondly, best to chat to neighbours and keep them on your side. Also give them the number of your builder in case of emergencies.  Finally, try and stick to business hours and avoid noisy work on weekends if you have to catch up (the police can be called in for excessive noise after hours).

Builders’ holidays

Almost all building teams shut down for the Christmas holidays from 16 December till 15 January (or there about). The same for most councils, NHBRC, contractors and suppliers. Factor this into your timeline.

Cash flow

Even if you’re building with a bond, it’s crucial to start a project with a large sum saved up. Almost all contractors require a start-up deposit and the bills come in thick and fast after that.

A R5 000 000 project over 9 months breaks down to R140 000 per week. If you’re not spending that on average, you know the materials are either not being ordered on time, or the teams are going to slowly.

Banks will send an assessor within a few days of a draw request. Based on their calculation, an amount will be paid into your account a few days later. This is almost always less than you expect as the assessors have to be conservative. If you want to keep going without delays you will need to make up the shortfall.

Update a spreadsheet at all times to keep track of where you are in your budget. Don’t leave this to the project manager or builder. No one cares as much about your money as you do and admin is not their specialty.

For more information on building costs click here.

Plan changes

There is not a building project in the world that has not required some alteration or adaptation. But try and keep them to a minimum. It’s worth having a 3D version of your plans done to avoid any nasty surprises or, at the very least, do a lot of visual walk throughs before you even start building.

The best architect on the planet cannot possibly know ever personal preferences of his/her client.  The position of a toilet might be really important to you. Changing that on your plan is quick sticks. Diverting a sewer pipe embedded in concrete, steel and wall is not.

And know this – every single change you make will have an unexpected knock-on effect. That new sewer pipe? It’s now running through the air conditioning ducting that’s six months down the line!

Also remember that if you have included time penalties in any contract with a builder, but start making changes to your plan, your case becomes very blurry and the contractor has grounds to argue any overtime penalty.

The endgame: Getting a building project finished

When you start a build, there are many unknowns. This is generally what makes the process stressful. New issues that need urgent attention, like having to add to extra foundation strength because of bad soil conditions, an irate neighbor or your site flooding from rain storms.

Hands down, the biggest headache is managing the completion. Budgets are blown, ten teams are on site at one time, deadlines loom and tempers start flaring.


Needless to say, adding a hefty contingency fund is always going to be a winning idea. You are going to go over budget, no question, but try and keep it to a manageable amount. You have to run a tight ship, and the only way of doing that is to carefully monitor spending from day one, every day.

There will almost certainly be one or five arguments about money towards the end, and having all the spend at your fingertips is the only way of winning that fight. At the very least, keep a spread sheet of daily spend (and what it was for, as five months later you will have forgotten).


Stuff happens and extras have to be squeezed in. This generally eats into your final house fittings budget. It’s your normal give and take scenario. A state-of-the-art kitchen would have been nice, but the budget often starts creeping up on you in the last few months. Alas, often new furniture also has to be scrapped. Rather get the structure and finishes right – furniture can wait.


The one cost that sneaks up on you in the end is the hardware bills. If you are an owner/builder every day seems to require the odd sealer, cleaning agent, fitting or screws. Before you know it, you’re spending R1000 a day. Get an account up front, negotiating a discount and monitor spending.

In the last few weeks, money flows like water. All the final payments are due from contractors, last and invariably most expensive, fittings go in and there are thousands of last finishing details to manage. Keep your wits about you and double check invoices against previous spend.

Cash flow

As the spend increases dramatically at the end, this can easily cause cash flow problems and requires careful planning (and possibly large overdraft facilities). The last payment from the bank will also require a council Occupation Certificate upfront. These are not necessarily easy to get. Your subcontractors will also demand full payment before they issue compliance certificates – which are required for the Occupation Certificate. A horrible Catch 22.


Make sure you have adequate security in place before your fittings start going in. This includes wiring and plumbing pipes. Both get stolen regularly to be sold as metal scraps. Some projects have had to rewire entire houses twice and redo all the ceilings that were damaged. Fortunately, many plumbers have switched to high grade plastic piping to avoid copper theft.

Theft is also rife when you have many contractors on site with their specialist tools lying around. It’s harder to control access and people come and go all day.


This is the make or break time of a project. You have to start giving clear and final deadlines to allow all the pieces to fit together. Weekly site meetings for all contractors are essential, or a group WhatsApp’s that everyone is on the same page.

However, in the end, it’s your time on site that will be essential. The final finishing touches are crucial to realise your vision and assuming your contractor has the same picture as you can be a mistake.

Doors can be hung to open the wrong way, painters could be using the wrong sealer, door handles could be the wrong height. It’s advisable to visit any site at least once a day in the final stages.

The mantra is – trust is good, but check is better.

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