Buying..damn the damp!

The quality of building in South Africa today is often criticised for its lack of consistency, and new developments experiencing damp problems, structural cracking or plaster cracking within the first 18 months of completion is not uncommon.

It is widely known that the regulations binding the building industry in this country are far less stringent than those in the UK, Australia and the US and, to a large degree, with the basics covered the rest is dependent on the level of the developer’s workmanship.

Who checks building quality and who protects the home buyer? While there certainly is room for improvement, there are already controls in place at various levels within the local industry to ensure building quality, says Douglas Ravenscroft, developer and broker/owner at RE/MAX Platinum in Rustenburg.

"A reputable developer will never cut quality corners when building. Similarly, when selling a home a good estate agent will advise the buyer to check all aspects of the building first before signing on the dotted line," points out Bruce Swain, regional director of RE/MAX of Southern Africa.

By law minimum standards have to be met at various stages throughout the building process. Architectural plans must adhere to council regulations and be passed at a municipal level. Inspections are then done at different stages of construction — once excavated, foundations must be approved by a building inspector before concrete is cast; the structure undergoes a damp proof cause (DPC) test, window height is checked, the roof structure passed and, once complete, the building must pass final inspection.

Banks have their say
Ultimately the wheels ensuring adherence to quality standards are set in motion by the banks. No loan for the construction of a house will be authorised by a bank without the assignment of a building contractor approved by the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC).

The NHBRC is a non-profit organisation established to make provision for the protection of housing consumers through home warranty schemes, regulating the home building industry through the registration of builders, and the setting of ethical and technical standards for the residential building industry.

To a degree the NHBRC has teeth: by law builders must build in accordance with NHBRC regulations or risk being struck from the organisation’s list of approved contractors. Homebuilders must pay a levy to the NHBRC, calculated according to the value of the house: projects valued at up to R400 000 carry a levy of 1.3 percent of the purchase price, 1.21 percent up to R700 000 and so on.

During the first three months of construction, all structural defects are covered by the developer or building contractor. Thereafter the NHBRC insurance kicks in. According to the NHBRC, the warranty scheme ensures that all new homes built are fit for habitation, built in a workmanlike manner, comply with the NHBRC technical requirements, carry a one year roof leak warranty from the home builder and carry a five-year major structural defects warranty from the homebuilder which is supported by the NHBRC fund.

Do your homework
"Most structural or damp problems are likely to occur during the first 12 months of construction, following a full summer and winter season. Any others tend to show within five years of completion," says Ravenscroft.

Interestingly there is not much protecting the South African homebuyer. The only assurance they have of quality control lies in the electrical compliance and beetle certifications, both of which are required by law before a house changes ownership. In the UK the homebuyer is legally required to have the property inspected by a structural engineer who carries a professional indemnity on work quality.

"In South Africa the voetstoets clause requires the homebuyer accepting the property 'as is'. Good estate agents will always advise the imminent homebuyer to really do his/her homework to check the house before making the decision to buy, even to the extent of calling in the services of a professional engineer to check the property," says Ravenscroft.

Article from: