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Read this before buying a Heritage home

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Some people feel that Heritage-listed properties are fascinating windows into the past and that their owners are lucky. Others say that a Heritage listing is a real headache with development restrictions and price depreciation.

There are risks involved with buying a Heritage home, but, in my opinion, the benefits far outweigh the cons.

In South Africa all structures older than 60 years – including fixtures and fittings – are protected by the National Heritage Resources Act, 25 of 1999. All properties in a conservation or heritage area are also protected. Parts of Cape Town are listed as being of heritage value, like Wynberg Village, Observatory, Little Mowbray, St James and the City Centre.

This is the right way to make alterations to heritage properties

According to Graham Viney, award-winning designer, author and expert on historic property in South Africa, the preservation of our country’s architectural treasures is frequently due to the collective clout of self-appointed local “watch dogs”, like those established in St James, Kalk Bay and Muizenberg.

However, Viney points out that there are grey areas when it comes to “defining history”: “There are some who view so-called Colonial architecture as testament to a repressive era and therefore unworthy of safeguarding,” says Richard Day, Pam Golding Properties National GM. “Really, though, these buildings are monuments to craftsmen who have gone before and should be treasured.

“Whether bought fully renovated or still in need of some love and care, the romance and emotional pull of an older home holds enormous appeal for many.”

The argument forMuizenberg st james

  1. Heritage properties frequently attract higher resale values because they, and often the surrounding areas, are protected. People may assume this means a property can’t be changed at all, but in fact work is encouraged to ensure a house is properly maintained and modernised; you just need to know what aspects of the original building are especially important in maintaining its character.
  2. If you have a Heritage home you may be able to apply for grants or loans to help fund its upkeep or maintenance. For example, the City of Johannesburg Department of Arts, Culture and Heritage offers a 20% rebate for properties declared Heritage sites.
  3. It is unlikely that the area surrounding your house will be re-zoned or developed.
  4. If the property is well looked after it will retain its appeal and will only grow in value with age.

The argument againsthistoric home carnarvon northern cape

  1. There are more restrictions around the development of a Heritage property, including how they can be renovated, the design and what building materials can be used.
  2. The cost of renovating a Heritage property can also be higher. In addition, you will have to look out for surprise costs for remedial electrical work or replacing roof trusses etc.
  3. Approvals for renovation or development will take longer. Not only do you need to deal with your local council, but Heritage bodies will also need to approve your plans. People wanting to buy and/or renovate a Heritage property should work with Heritage authorities and council from the start.
  4. Complete demolition of a property isn’t usually allowed.
  5. Home insurance may be harder to obtain so it’s best to do some research before making an offer.
  6. Heritage-listed properties are old, so ensure you organise thorough building and pest inspections.

Take a look at neighbouring properties to see if any of them have been renovated or extended. If so, your local council/Heritage authority is receptive and perhaps you will find good contractors that are experienced in dealing with Heritage homes.

Looking for contractors? Find them all here

“Many historic homes were built in prime central locations, or close to attractive natural features such as rivers and mountain backdrops,” says Day. “They may still occupy significantly larger erfs and have more and larger rooms than the average modern home. They also tend to be well-built structures, with thick walls, wooden floors and old-school attention to detail and craftsmanship.

“It is often such features, and if they form part of a well-maintained, fully renovated historic property, which may command a premium price, more than any intrinsic heritage value or significance.”

Day says an ill-maintained historic property, or one requiring insensitive renovations, will often fetch a lower price than an equivalent modern home, given the cost of restoring it to its former glory. “Buyers who dream of renovating old homes should also be aware that they cannot just move in and start building,” he says. “Before taking on an historical property, make sure that it is generally suitable for your requirements in terms of size and plan. Sometimes people buy buildings because of their historical charm, only to completely alter them or to remove all patina or sense of past history.

“Find a house you like, and consider its pros and cons objectively, as well as emotionally. The more logically you approach buying the house, the more you’re going to love living in it.”

Who is Claire Cardwell?

Claire Cardwell of Blue Designs is an architectural designer with over 15 years experience in the Johannesburg area. She has worked on small projects – double garages, swimming pools – and new houses from a 1,300m² house in Featherbrooke Estate, to houses of only 110m² in size. In 2015/2016 she worked on a small complex, a warehouse, a nursery school and new houses in the Waterfall Country Estate, Copperleaf Estate, and in Limpopo on an old-age home and frail care facility in North Riding.


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  • El 6th February 2018

    Hi Claire, thank you for the information.

    I am looking at purchasing cottages/Semi houses that are classified according to the estate agent as “Light-heritage sites” – what does this mean and what is the process in order to secure the rights to either demolish or renovate.