Building From a Distance

When one is fortunate enough to live in a place like Hermanus, you get to see the world through different eyes and the realities of property development is just one of those eye-openers that you cannot but be astounded by.

Building from a distanceWhilst there is an incredible amount of growth and new residential development happening, a lot of it is speculative and a lot is for owners who live elsewhere but are building either their retirement or holiday homes. It is no wonder that so many people talk about how much longer their build took than expected or how difficult it was to manage the liaison with all the different parties involved. Never mind the “way over budget” syndrome which seems to be the standard with most builds. This is of particular concern to those landowners who are trying to manage their builds and related communications from afar and not able to be physically present for the duration of their build.

As new home builders who have just embarked on what is probably the most exciting project of a lifetime, we have seen just how easily miscommunication between various entities can go awry if there isn’t a central point of contact and a local presence. What many people get surprised by is the never-ending start-up costs that either they weren’t prepared for or that no-one mentioned to them. The message here is to be prepared before embarking on a build and know what to look out for from the outset.

We all know there will be costs for Architects, Builders, Engineers and so forth but, do you fully understand the extent to which the costs mount up before you have even dug a crud of soil. You thought you had it covered with all the pre-planning of potential costs. And whilst you knew there would be fees from the NHBRC (National Home Builders Registration Council), no one could put a figure to it until the day when the builder registers the build. Make sure you have a Valium or a stiff scotch at hand – not so much because of the costs involved (although that does warrant a sip or five) but more about how they justify the fees they charge for what doesn’t appear to be much work to be done on their part. So be it, you pay because you have no choice.

Don’t underestimate the costs to connect your plot to the electricity and water resources available or the timeframe that it takes to get this done by the respective councils or utility providers. And chances are no-one mentioned that these days you could very likely need a geologist, at the insistence of the engineer, who also needs to feed his family.

What a lot of people also don’t know is that the moment your building plans have been approved, you will see a change on your municipal invoice. Suddenly you are being charged for services that you aren’t even using. And then when you water gets connected, you start paying for sewerage “consumption” when there’s nothing more than a portaloo in sight. Do not underestimate the extent to which hidden costs still show their face even when you have planned everything in finite detail.

The biggest challenge for a property owner who is not resident for the duration of the build is a simple question of “Who is keeping an eye on things from my perspective?” Whilst competent building firms with competent project managers will go a long way to let you sleep at night, never underestimate the power of having someone “on your side” keeping the builders and other service providers in check and ensuring that your requests are being dealt with in an efficient manner and not at the last minute just before you make a site visit after being away for a few months. The less frequent your visits are, the more important it is to have Project specialists who have had the experience close at hand.

Here’s a simple checklist to keep on top of everything whilst you embark on this exciting and challenging experience:-

  • The old Afrikaans adage is ever pertinent – “Goedkoop is Duurkoop”. It has been proven time and time again to be so true and taking short-cuts up front will lead to a more expensive solution at a later stage. It’s not a threat, it is a promise.


  • Do not rely exclusively on all the information your architect and builder give you. Whilst it is often very pertinent, make sure you investigate all your options and as you would with a critical medical issue, get a 2nd opinion if you are in the slightest doubt about something.


  • You can never plan enough when it comes to a building project. Laymen often feel they aren’t clued up enough to tackle the task and rely on “people in the know” like Project specialists to assist. Whilst this is a great idea, part of the excitement of building a home is being intimately involved in all aspects of the planning. This approach will turn a “it’s got to be done” project into a “I’m loving every minute of it” project.


  • Plan your finishes well in advance. The more you start looking into things like flooring, tiles, lighting, door handles, skirtings, cornices, ceilings etc., the more you will realise that there are so many options and you don’t want to be pressurised into making a quick decision. Get all that groundwork done way in advance and make you final choice closer to the time it’s needed.


  • Allow for delays, within reason. There are so many factors at play these days that can impact the timing of a build. If you expect everything to go according to plan, you will be disappointed. And when a builder says it will take “X” months to complete, add a few more months to that and manage your expectations accordingly. Rather be surprised at a project completing earlier than you expected than be climbing a wall in sheer frustration because “the builder said it would take that long”. And when you live is a climate that is conducive to rapidly changing weather patterns, all building commitments have a proviso that translates to “weather dependent”.

Happy planning and building. Make this journey one of the most exciting ones that you could experience rather than it be a clinical process that starts with a mental roadmap of insurmountable challenges ahead. You will not be disappointed.