Tips for the first time home builder: A step by step guide

I have a vacant plot in a residential area which I am now ready to start building my retirement home on. However, everyone has warned me that a construction project is complex and that I have to follow the right steps and get all the right approvals before I start to avoid lots of headaches later. So where should I start?

By Luhann Prinsloo

All buildings constructed in South Africa must comply with the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act 103 of 1977 (the “Act”), together with all Regulations issued in terms thereof. Local authorities are also bound by the provisions of the Act, and any plans and specifications, involving the construction or erection of a building and/or structure, must be approved by your local municipality before any construction commences.

A good place to start is to make contact with your local municipality’s planning department and try and talk to the building control officer. As each local municipality will have its own by-laws and rules, the building control officer will be best suited to advise you on the specific requirements for the area in which you plan to build and any possible considerations you should take note of with regards to your project.

You must also establish what the zoning is of your vacant plot. The zoning scheme regulations for the specific area will prescribe the use of the plot and whether there are any restraints placed thereon. In some cases, though these are not very common, the intended usage of the plot might require further permissions in terms of environmental and heritage affairs. You should also ask your attorney to obtain a copy of the title deed of your plot to ascertain if there are any title restrictions, servitudes or endorsements in the title deed which you should take note of.

Appoint the necessary experts and do your homework well before you make any appointments. Make sure that the architect, engineer, builder or electrician is registered and obtain references from previous clients on work they have done. Once you have your team, ensure that you conclude proper contracts with your contractors. Here a word of caution is appropriate. Although various ‘off the shelf’ contracts are available (e.g. JBCC, NEC3 and the like), one must understand that these contracts must still be carefully scrutinised and completed to ensure that any associated risks are properly managed. As these contracts can be difficult to complete and understand, it remains prudent to obtain legal advice and help to make sure that you contract carefully and correctly. This way, should problems arise during the project (as they often do), you are covered contractually.

If your project is to be financed through a building loan, it is important to consult your bank. They may have additional requirements and may require additional experts to be appointed and internal approvals to be followed. Make sure you understand their requirements and build this into your project.

Once your team is appointed, plans have been drawn up, and you have all necessary documentation in hand, you can apply to your local municipality for permission to start your building project. Make sure your application contains all the required information and is in the prescribed format. Do not commence with your building activities before all the necessary approvals have been obtained. The municipality may put a stop to your unauthorised building activities and you may even end up with a fine for each day during which you undertook the unauthorised building activities. The local municipality in considering your plans must apply its mind. They will look at the motivation from the building control officer, as well as the provisions of the Act and any local by-laws and rules when exercising their discretion.

When you have your approved plans, you can continue. Remember that any scope changes during construction will have to be updated on your building plans and may even need additional approvals should they be substantial in nature. Certain stages of your building project (e.g. laying of foundation, plumbing and electrical) will also involve building inspectors that must conduct on-site inspections to see if the construction and raw materials being used are compliant with the relevant standards. Finally, once your home is built, remember to obtain your certificate of occupancy from your builder before moving in. This will also be an important requirement for your bank should you build with a building loan.

As you will notice, a building project can be a daunting task and littered with potential risks. Good preparation to face these risks is therefore of paramount importance. So make sure you obtain advice upfront and put the necessary contractual frameworks in place to help you minimize and manage your risk throughout the project.

This article was first published in Phatshoane Henney Attorneys April 2017 newsletter

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