A guide to house building in South Africa

A guide to house building in South Africa

Case Study 8: New build No.4

Zululami Estate, Sheffield Beach 2022

Although intending to stay in Johannesburg longer, the Covid epidemic brought significant changes to my husband’s work place and he could work from home for the first time. Instead of waiting till the kids finished school, we decided to offer them a better lifestyle as soon as possible and complete the move out of the big city.

We had to consider long and hard as to where this might be, and we eventually settled on a lifestyle estate that was still pretty rural and offered open space, close to the beach and, importantly, close to an airport for easy commutes when necessary.

Zululami Estate

Starting a build in a new area is never easy as one has no contacts or even references for builders. Fortunately my brother, an experienced builder (although only privately), offered to undertake the build for us. As we wanted to avoid an extra house move, we chose to stay in our rental in Johannesburg while the building was under way. This way the kids could finish their school year and start the new year in our new home.

Bryan Dunstan (bdstudio.co.za) once again completed the sketch plan phase with me (this time with a Mediterranean inspiration) as he was in Johannesburg and knew my preferences. I did have to use an approved Zululami architect, Richard Hicks (with TCRPv) for the final plans and submission. This was fortuitous as it proved a lengthy and complicated process and him being local and familiar with Kwadukuza procedures and council was very helpful. I can recommend both Bryan and Richard very highly.

House on a hill – otherwise knows as Meerhaus (Sea house)

But, as it often the case, we ran into some obstacles, and in this case, all out of our control.

The KZN floods hit just as we were completing our foundations. The damage was not major, and we did receive our insurance claim straight away, but it meant significant time delays (slight clearing, as well as suppliers that could not delivery for some time).

Then our plumber had a stroke (fortunately recovered now), and my builder needed emergency surgery. Wind blew walls over, and the contracted formwork company dropped the ball (most of the timber formwork ‘popped’, which caused the concrete to bulge). The well known roofing supplier got their order wrong (‘new employer’) and we had to refigure everything on site.

However, the biggest delay was created by the aluminium and glass supplier that was four months late in delivering half the windows. This set us back hugely as we were unable to continue many inside finishes without the house being closed up.

We had to negotiate and plead with main contractors to forge ahead in bad weather conditions, and the last piece of glass was fitted four days before we moved it. Not really ideal.

Despite all of this, the house was finished in 10 months, and by some miracle we moved in 8pm on the last day before the estate shut down for a month. This was largely due to a serious push by my brother (“I put on a skirt and did a song and dance” to get your occupation approved) and sister that helped project manage the last eight weeks, while I was packing and finishing a school year with the kids.

The good

The views ended up being far better than we ever hoped for. The site was a really good find, even though we were told there were no more sea view sites available in our budget. And the house is particularly beautiful from all front elevations thanks to Bryan’s ‘stacking of the boxes’.

Also finally got a walled garden and extensive water tank system.

Love the airbreeze blocks too.

The bad

Small subcontractors in this town are expensive. Probably double the price from many I used in Johannesburg. Having seen the white double cabs in the parking lot of local surfing beaches in the morning, I have the impression they all know each other and have a few monopolies going.

This has also been the first build I was not on site every day. I have paid for it with issues that bug me every day that would have turned out differently had I been here.

The ugly

I complained in the last blog, but it’s fair to say the red tape has gotten only worse. PPE gear, bank paperwork, labour and council legislation, spot visits with fines and much more means the costs only go higher.

Together with rising material costs (steel has tripled in price since my last build three years ago), this means the numbers aren’t pretty. The build still came in far below current market quotes (so I shouldn’t complain), but fair to say my nerves are shot.

The final word

Building is getting more expensive, complicated and regulated. Although the latter has helped push dodgy builders out of business and made them safer, you simply have to budget more and be patient with the process. It’s always worth it in the end.

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