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.



Online Rentals: Airbnb vs. vs. the rest

Online rentals: airbnb online rentals: booking dot comFor home owners who venture down the path of renting out rooms, cottages, lofts or any other section of their property, the first challenge they have is to decide which online rental portal to use. Whilst Airbnb is probably the most well-known one, there are many others that exist around the globe such as, TripAdvisor, Lekkeslaap and its English cousin Travelground, Afristay (SA’s own Airbnb equivalent), and so the list continues.

Whilst Airbnb is a company name, it has also become the de facto standard for the online rental “brand”. To explain this, I use the analogy from years back when Hoover was a brand of vacuum cleaner yet every vacuum cleaner was generically referred to as a “Hoover”. These days, Airbnb is the term used generically. An example of this is “I am going to Airbnb my property”, which does not necessarily mean that the Airbnb portal will be used versus the others that are available.

So how does one decide which is the right portal to use?

There are many criteria that one needs to consider when making this decision. These include:-

  • Strength in the local market as a source of guests, especially if you want international guests
  • Ease of use
  • Flexibility of the portal for information you want to provide on the accommodation
  • Rules and regulations
  • Commissions payable to the portal
  • Payment methods
  • Availability of support
  • Guest service and communication focus

Whilst there is a lot of common ground across the different competitors, there are some distinct differences which people base their decisions on. One of the key criteria which is often used is the visibility or generic interpretation of the brand and that is where Airbnb wins the race. They also get top marks for the low commission they charge on their bookings, then payment method and the flexibility of their portal. However, if they do not attract as many guests in a specific market segment or location then that choice may be disappointing for the home owner looking for that additional income.

The advice here is to do your research into your local market before deciding what to do. It often makes sense to use at least 2 portals and the ones that are generally top of mind are Airbnb and, specifically if you are looking to source overseas guests. The challenge here is that there is such a big differential in the commission they take that often people use the lower commission portals and then end up being disappointed in the results they get as far as bookings are concerned.

Irrespective of which portal you use, make sure that your choice is based on the above criteria and that you monitor it closely to ensure a regular flow of guests that meet the profile you wish to attract.


Home Maintenance – Supervision vs Rework

The topic of home maintenance is often one which brings a wave of nausea over people when they finally face the moment where they have to do the necessary property repairs that often get left too late. More often than not, prior experiences have left a very bad taste and owners just don’t see their way to having to deal with individuals or companies who constantly have to be summoned back on site to fix something that was not done properly in the first place.

The key criteria when selecting a service provider are often met and yet the end result is not what is promised, expected or delivered. Some of these key criteria at the top of the list are, or at least should be:-

  • An efficient service
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Project completion on time
  • Quality end result

So how does one explain that even when selecting a professional and reputable company, you can still end up with an end result which has not been a hassle free experience? We hear people talk about “putting lipstick on the pig” when trying to cover up a problem. Sadly, that is what often happens with home maintenance projects. Service providers frequently make all sorts of promises yet when it comes to the crunch, those are followed by a whole lot of excuses as to why it took too long, why it went over budget and why it just isn’t the end result that you were promised.

It begs the question “what is the fundamental problem”. Well it is actually quite simple. It is called SUPERVISION. Reality has proven that whilst you can have the best products being used and qualified workmen on site, the lack of supervision is more often than not the culprit. From many personal experiences we have seen that when the right supervision is in place, a lot of the issues do not even feature.

It’s all good and well for service providers to say that their workers can “manage themselves” but not everyone does get it right first time and if no one is around to supervise and advise, that’s where the problems start. One of the synonyms for the word “Supervision” is “Guidance”, and that’s where the real problem sits. It’s one thing giving people a job to do but if they are not being supervised properly and given the training and/or guidance on site then the project is already set up for failure. In so many different cases, be it building, electrical, plumbing, painting or landscaping, there is a common trend which results in client dissatisfaction.

That common trend is what I refer to as “Drop and Hop”. That is where workers are dropped off at site with the absolute minimum instruction and the “supervisor” hops off to the next job. Seldom will this approach be effective as more time is being spent going backwards and forwards to multiple sites or getting supplies and the supervisory aspect just doesn’t happen. That is when the project already starts going pear shaped.

A recent example comes to mind. A client had a requirement for the lawn around their newly installed swimming pool to be replaced and the levels sorted. The landscaper arrived on site with the team, dropped them off, gave a minutes instruction and wasn’t seen for the rest of the day. Whilst the workers did get on with it, they spend more time chatting to one another and their mates on their cell phones than actually doing the work. The nominated supervisor amongst them was himself not too focused on anything other than joining in the conversation. By observation having been on site all day, they probably lost at least 3 hours of work time and after that happens a few days at a time, one can easily understand why completion deadlines are missed.

Having not been forewarned about the layout of cables and pool pipes, the workers were merrily going about their business with picks and shovels. Needless to say, they hacked a huge hole in one of the inlet pipes to the pool which then caused another 12 hour delay as that had to be repaired first before they could progress. The net result is time wasted and more problems created which prevented other service providers from finishing their side of the project.

This is but one of hundreds of examples which any of our readers could relate to and the one word that keeps being the underlying reason for this is SUPERVISION, or actually the lack thereof.

When embarking on any project of this nature, ensure that someone is “really” supervising the project and not just leaving workers on site who then get blamed for the delays etc. when they were not properly instructed what to do. If the project is of such a nature that full time supervision is not necessary, regular check-ups on work-in-progress should be performed to prevent massive re-work.

Holiday Home Services

The best way for us to explain the benefits of holiday home services is for you to picture the scene: You and your family are finally packed to take a break at your holiday home, a cherished possession which everyone cannot wait to get to. Visions of sun, sea and lazy days are in everyone’s mind and for the younger generation it is very much an “are we there yet?” scenario.

Whilst you are on the road and beginning to chill out, thoughts start going through your head. “What state will the property be in when we get there?” “Do we need to stock up on foodstuffs and household goods on our way?” “How much time will we have to spend (and being a grudge activity, waste) cleaning up before we can relax?” These are realities which many holiday home owners are faced with and immediately it becomes clear that some of your valuable vacation time has to be spent on domestic activities, the last thing you want to do when away from your home base.

This is where Property Management specialists comes into play. Focused on enhancing your holiday experience as much as you permit, we will facilitate the full spectrum of needs prior to arriving at your destination, leaving you with the maximum amount of time to start enjoying your break.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a locally based service that you could call upon to handle a whole string of requirements for you. Could you really say no to arriving at your destination and finding a property that is cleaned, the grocery cupboard and refrigerator are stocked, fresh linen and towels are ready and all you have to do is unpack and take that first stroll down to the beach or the local eatery? The geysers are on so you don’t have to wait for the water to heat up for that well deserved shower after hours on the road.

Once your break is over and you start the process of packing up to head home, the last thing you want to do is clean up everything including washing the linen and doing all those “non-holiday” tasks that are probably facing you when you get home. If only you had someone to hand the keys to who will make sure that everything is tidied up and in its right place after you have left.

Then of course there is the other dynamic that comes into play when you are relaxing at your holiday home. You start noticing that there is some maintenance that needs to be done, garden landscaping to be beefed up, wood needing treatment, that braai area you rigged up some years back needs a facelift and the list becomes endless.

More often than not, those thoughts get discarded as you don’t have someone who can facilitate all of that for you whilst you are back at home base. The longer those thoughts get discarded, the higher the maintenance time and cost when you do get around to doing what needs to be done.

Well that need not be a concern any longer if you contract the services of a company that specialises in managing all of that for you and becomes your “eyes and ears”, supervising all the work that needs to be done. Instead of having to deal with multiple service providers remotely, you can have one point of contact to manage all aspects of your holiday home in your absence and leave you with peace of mind that at your next visit, all those “maintenance” thoughts will be parked in favour of enjoying the home in its refurbished state.