A guide to house building in South Africa

A guide to house building in South Africa

Blog: Ten tips for finding the best piece of land

Buying land can be trickier that you think. So I’ve jotted down my experience.

After a long, dispirited search for our first home in Cape Town in 2001, we somehow stumbled onto one of the last remaining plots in a small, sea facing estate in Hout Bay. We were sold immediately. I could not believe this site was still available as I thought it to be a real gem. I was worried that we were missing something, because we were so inexperienced. As it turns out, we did find a good buy, as seven years later, the lovely mountain and sea views, terraced garden, and albeit humble home, proved an excellent investment.

Fast forward to twenty years later and we were back in the hunt for a plot, this time in the Kwazulu-Natal north coast. (Long story short, my husband’s IT career demanded too much time in Johannesburg, which precipitated a move up north. Then Covid allowed flexible work from home options six years later, but our desire for open space, easy beach AND airport access, made KZN the front runner. The estate we chose, Zululami, is 25 minutes from the airport, with access to large tracks of unspoilt beach and lots of open space.)

When we started looking in 2020 a vast number of plots were available. We took the kids, and the overwhelming sentiment was a go! We went home to prepare our house for a sale and around nine months later we were in the position to make a cash offer.

In 2021 the pool of land was much smaller and at first glance I felt the best sites were gone. Fortunately my experience from 20 years back made me realise that good sites often go unnoticed.  I studied the estate map carefully, and even looked at options in neighbouring developments. One failed offer later, but I persisted with research.

Another visit in August 2021 proved a winner. After a few more site visits on my own, Google maps and weather searches, informal chats with many locals and a bit of luck we found the best plot for our budget. In fact, as it turns out again, we ended up with a humdinger!

Topography map

This is what my experiences have taught me:

  1. Search hard for the views. The obvious view sites are expensive. The dark horses are harder to find, but out there (our local agent immediately spotted the potential of this site when I sent him our top three contenders and in fact called it a dark horse as it was the cheapest!). Google maps and topography maps help indicate high points. Ladders or scaffold might seem extreme, but it makes a difference.
  2. Check weather sites for yearly wind diagrams and temperatures. At the coast, this is especially crucial. Especially in Cape Town. Our site is very exposed to the elements, but now we know where to create shelter. Needless to say, access to north light is crucial and cannot be underestimated!

  3. Sadly, the future changes in weather also make climate studies essential. In KZN I would be very weary of steep, sandy sites now. Water shortages, storms and heatwaves, heavy downpours are now a reality for all of us. Plan for the future and be mindful of your environmental responsibilities.
  4. Google maps satellite view helps you understand the greater area. Are there high crime areas nearby or open pockets of land that might have vagrants living on it? You can even research crime stats of an area on the web.
  5. Chat to locals (other than the agents). For example, 16 years in Cape Town helped me understand which pockets protected from the south easter, or had the last rays of light in the evening (an,d in some cases, facing due west can become a liability due to the blinding light). A lifetime of beach holidays in Ballito told me that I’d never want to live on the beach, as the wind comes up in the afternoon and the sun goes behind the hill early, often resulting in unpleasant conditions for half of the day.
  6. Go to the site at different times of day, and in different weather conditions. The plot that I thought I preferred at first proved to have distant, but clear traffic noise when we returned in the afternoon. Despite the fact that we were miles from the source, the breeze made the noise unmistakable. It could have been between that, or the soft, rolling breakers, which is what we got in the end.
  7. Check how easily accessible schools, shops, medical facilities, airports are – according to your needs. Often forgotten, but very important to me, is the ability to go for safe, beautiful walks from my front door. Priceless.
  8. When buying in a new development (with little idea of the surrounding houses to come), it really helps to choose the sites that have ‘drops’ on either side. The site we finally settled on, despite not looking especially enticing, was higher on three sides to the neighbouring plots. This way we knew that a great deal of our views would be secured.
  9. Look at the site on paper. Our plot looked very small in person, but the topography (it was raised in the parts that were inaccessible because of heavy bush) helped us realise the potential for views, while the square meterage assured us of more than enough land.
  10. Finally, consider the conditions for ease of building. This includes soil (don’t want too much rock, or sand for that matter) and access for trucks and cranes.
Prevailing winds at KZN north coast

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