Age matters: why buyers should always check how old a property is




18 April 2024

While some buyers are lucky enough to find their dream home in their dream condition off the bat, it’s very common for people to plan improvements shortly after purchasing a property. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the easy renovation journey most expect it to be. Roger Lotz, franchisee at Rawson Properties Helderberg, explains.

“South Africa has very strict legislation protecting heritage buildings,” he says, “and while most people know that extremely old properties or properties with known historical significance are subject to special restrictions, it’s less common knowledge that heritage rules apply to any property over sixty years of age. In the Western Cape, that covers a huge percentage of our residential properties, which means most home renovations will need to go through some level of heritage approval.”

The so-called “sixty-year rule”, found in Section 34 of the National Heritage Resources Act, states that “No Person may alter or demolish any structure or part of a structure which is older than 60 years without a permit issued by the relevant provincial heritage authority”.WhatsApp Image 2022-04-12 at 11.39.16 AM

This heritage permit needs to be acquired before architectural plans can be approved by the municipality. This, Lotz says, can add significant time – and potentially expense – to the renovation process. Particularly if the property in question has no approved plans in place to begin with.

“Selling a property without plans isn’t prohibited, and it does happen from time to time, but it is getting harder and harder to do,” says Lotz. “Buyers are definitely becoming more aware of the risks of buying a home without checking the plans first. If it comes to light that part – or all – of a property was built illegally, the current owner may be liable for fines or remediation costs, regardless of whether or not they did the illegal building work.”

Illegal structures aren’t the only challenge of a home with no approved plans in place. Having no existing plans also adds to the workload of getting heritage and council approval. “Buyers would first need to have a set of ‘as built’ plans drawn up and submitted by their architect,” says Lotz. “Once these are approved, they can move on to plans for their renovation which will need to be submitted to the Heritage department and then council after that.”

Even if existing plans are in order, however, Lotz says that Heritage approval is never a given. “If the property is found to have any historic, cultural or contextual significance, Heritage may limit the alterations owners are permitted to make,” he says. “In most cases, if you stay true to the original character of the home and its neighbourhood, you shouldn’t have too many problems, but if you’re buying an older property with the intention of giving it a total facelift, you may run into some challenges.”

As such, Lotz strongly recommends that all buyers make a point of checking a property’s age and approved plans as a standard part of their purchase process – particularly if future renovations are planned. 

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Roger Lotz

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