A guide to house building in South Africa

A guide to house building in South Africa

Planning: Step-by-step process to start build

These are the steps you need to follow before you can start a build. Some of this information is repeated elsewhere, but use this list to tick off all your requirements, in chronological order.

1. Purchase land

  • If you are buying in a development/estate, check the credentials of the developer. Many go bankrupt.
  • Study the estate guidelines carefully. They might have many restrictions that could influence what you can do.
  • Has the land been transferred yet by council, is it ready for sale?
  • Have services (water and sewerage pipes, as well as electricity supply) been laid?
  • If private land, and the plot is a subdivision, has it been fully registered at the deeds office and have new services been laid?
  • Check with town planner what neighbourhood heights and boundary restrictions are.
  • Regarding payment, banks tend to only provide 60% bonds for a new plot. So you will require some capital to build.

2. Obtain information

  • Seller should provide an SG diagram. This shows dimensions and area of plot. Similarly, they should also provide a Title Deed that might stipulate heights or double storey restrictions for that plot.
  • Have a Land survey done (if not available already) for heights and contours. These measurements will be used for final house height allowances.
  • Have a Geotechnical report done (checking soil and build conditions for foundations) by an engineer. Although not always required, it is safer to do so.

3. Draw up plans

  • Architects have different charging structures. You can choose to do plans only, or plans with project management. There is no question that the involvement of an architect takes the project to another level, but it is costly as you’ll likely pay for top subcontractors and the architects management time. For more information on an architect’s likely fee breakdown, click here.
  • If you are going to the trouble to build a house, choose wisely. A well designed home is instantly worth more and better to live in.
  • Plans also require Energy Efficient models now. If your architect can’t do it, you will need to hire a specialist.

4. Submit your plans to Estate Building committee

  • If you are building within an estate, your plans will have to be reviewed and approved by the estate. This usually comes with a fee.

5. Appoint a structural engineer

  • It is the engineer that will be responsible to your structure’s integrity, not the architect. An engineer has to be appointed before you submit to council.

6. Submit your plans to local council

  • This process requires all of the following paperwork
    • Proof of transfer
    • SG diagram
    • Contour plan
    • Geotech report (not always required)
    • Appointment of structural engineer
    • Full set of plans
    • Full set of electrical layout
    • Estate approval
  • If you are asking for any waivers or consent, council will provide you with forms that all neighbouring properties have to sign. Avoid if you can as this can lead to major delays/drama.
  • Council submissions also come with a fee.
  • This process used to be managed by ‘runners’ that you could pay to manage, but they are often no longer allowed. Either you, or your architect will need to follow up regularly to see if any further information is required. At best, it can take 2-3 months, but often longer. Concessions can take years!

7. Complete structural engineering plans

  • A full set of structural engineering plans have to be drawn up before going out for tender. This needs to include foundations, slabwork and roofing. These specs can have a huge influence on costs, especially if you have poor ground conditions. The engineer will in all likelihood require a Geotech report.

8. Appoint a builder

You will need to create a clear Schedule of Finished to allow a builder to provide an accurate quote. Architects can create one, at a fee, or you will need to specify all your finished, flooring, ceiling and roofing specification. Naturally, Quantity Surveyors are the best at providing detailed costing for this. Some builder will use their own, or you can appoint one.

To do any new building is South Africa, a builder has to be registered with the NHBRC. Request his certificate as proof. It is a yearly subscription, so see it’s up to date.

Needless to say, clear and concise budgets, payment milestones and timelines must be discussed and signed up front.

9. Register the project with NHBRC

  • If you are building a new house (not renovating), you need to register your house with the NHBRC, even if you are not using a bond.
  • More paperwork and approved plans need to be submitted by you, builder and structural engineer at your nearest NHBRC office. This should officially be done by your NHBRC registered builder, but they often avoid admin and can be done by you if necessary (with their information and signatures).
  • A sliding fee based on building cost will be applied, although it’s capped around R36 000.
  • Although this is all a pain, avoid skipping this stage. If you need a bond, you will certainly need an enrollment certificate. Even if you are building cash, you still need a certificate, and the risk is too great that you get caught out. The cost, time and administrative implications if you are found out are a nightmare.

10. Connect water and power

  • Even if services are laid to your new property, you still have to get council to connect direct water and electricity pipes to your home. This might be only a few meters, but they will have the correct connectors.
  • Both come at a fee and need you to go to council to apply. In some cases, this could take months, so be sure to apply well before you start building (you’ll need running water from the outset).

11. Secure your property

  • Theft on site is a common occurrence, so fence in your property (estate generally require it), or install a hut that can be locked. Cement also needs a dry place to store. Needless to say, expensive equipment must still be removed at the end of the day.

12. Get a safety file

  • Builders are often required to have a Safety File on hand (especially on large sites). These are created by Safety officers who will do an inspection and provide signage.

13. Pay a building deposit (if an estate)

  • Generally speaking, estates require a building deposit before work can begin. Any damage trucks, concrete spillage or building creates will be taken off your deposit to repair.

14. Excavate/clear your property

  • This stage could be done earlier, as you do not require approved plans or permission to do so.

15. Contact NHBRC for inspection

  • Even if registered, you still need to contact the NHBRC to inspect the property before foundation digging can start. They need to make further inspections before any structural milestones (i.e. concrete being poured).
  • The same for Structural Engineer. They need to inspect all steel/formwork of foundations before concrete pour can be done.

16. Start your build

  • Needless to say, this is where the real work starts. Trust is good, but check is better. You or architect needs to inspect the build regularly. Make sure all subcontractors have updated plans at all times as tweaks always occur (and always have unexpected repercussions!).
  • Keep records and cost implications of any changes.
  • Also manage your cash flow carefully. This can make or break a timeline.
  • Best of luck!



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