Should I buy or build a house?

Private Property South Africa
Martin Hatchuel

It’s probably the oldest question in the property investment book: should I build my next home, or buy an existing one?

The very fact that this question has had such a long and illustrious history as a conundrum should provide a clue as to why the only definitive answer will always be: it depends.

Of course it doesn’t help that the choices in existing properties are bewildering: lists thousands of properties in more than 4 500 SA suburbs – and hosts more than a million visitors a month.

But each person’s needs, desires, and budget are different, so the only correct answer is also: it depends.


If you’re faced with making this decision, then, it’s worth knowing a little about the challenges – and triumphs – of building.

According to Nick Brits, a principle at Evolve Architects in Gauteng, two of the greatest benefits of building your new house are design freedom and the ease with which you can incorporate your green ambitions into the structure.

“The question of design freedom is an important one,” said Nick. “Very often people struggle to articulate what they want, and one of our roles as architects is to guide our clients on the exciting journey of attaining it. For them – as well as for people who have a fixed idea of their ideal home – building is the way to go.”

Green aspects

“And if you build from scratch, you can take full and immediate advantage of all the new technologies available for energy efficiency, water consumption, lighting, and the many other aspects of eco-friendly living that are available to us today.

“Just by following the national building regulations which govern new buildings, you’ll automatically be incorporating a number of green issues which weren’t even thought of in days gone by,” he said. (See Nedbank’s comprehensive guides to the regulations: ‘SANS 10400-XA: Energy Usage in Buildings’ and ‘SANS 204: Energy Efficiency in Buildings’.)

High cost of building a house

On the downside, though, says CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, Adrian Goslett, “building a home could come at a higher cost than people expect”.

He said that issues like construction delays and the costs of borrowing can considerably increase the capital costs of new buildings, and pointed out that most banks will ask for higher deposits against loans on new buildings, and most will charge a higher interest rate during the construction phase due to the risks involved, too.


Vital, of course, is the choice of contractor, and Adrian advised that homeowners should use only contractors who are registered with the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC).

“This will help to ensure that the standard of the workmanship is up to scratch and will provide the homeowner with some protection against defects occurring from substandard building,” he said.

But it’s not only about ticking all the boxes: you need to make sure that you’re choosing a company with which you’ll be able to work.

“The right builder is key,” said Adrian. “It is vital to scrutinise the contractor’s track record because when it comes to building a property, the construction risk is possibly the largest risk. If the quality of the workmanship is sub-par, rectifying problems at a later stage could prove to be extremely costly.”

And here, of course, your architect plays a vital role. “Our core functions include attending to the aesthetic and technical aspects of the design of your house – but we’re also there to oversee the tendering and construction phases of your project,” said Nick.

So what will you do? Build Or buy?

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