Building vs Buying a House in South Africa: Pros & Cons

In the current economic climate, where cost-effectiveness and long-term value are paramount considerations, the decision between building or buying a house presents a significant dilemma. This choice is not merely a financial one; it also deeply impacts one’s lifestyle and future planning. Building a house offers the allure of customisation and the assurance of modern amenities and design, often aligned with the latest trends. It promises energy efficiency and lower maintenance costs, albeit at a potentially higher initial outlay and the risk of unforeseen delays and expenses. On the other hand, buying an existing home provides the immediacy of a quicker move-in with established neighbourhoods and existing infrastructure. However, it may come with outdated designs, the necessity for renovations, and possibly higher long-term maintenance costs. In either scenario, factors such as location, amenities, and personal preferences play a crucial role in guiding this critical decision. The balance between upfront costs and future savings, as well as the emotional value of creating a home from scratch versus adapting an existing one, are key elements in navigating this complex choice.

Advantages of Buying a House:

Expediency and Established Locations:

Buying an existing home typically offers a much swifter transition from purchase to occupancy. In contrast to the protracted process of constructing a new house, the average time frame from initiating the purchase of an existing property to moving in is approximately three months. This quick availability is a significant advantage for those requiring immediate housing solutions. Moreover, existing homes are often situated in well-established areas. These locations are usually well-integrated into the urban fabric, offering proximity to essential amenities such as schools, healthcare facilities, shopping centres, and public transport networks. Such strategic locations not only provide convenience but also enhance the living experience by ensuring easy access to urban necessities.

Clarity on Costs and Financial Planning:

When purchasing an existing home, the financial aspects tend to be more transparent and predictable. The costs involved in buying a house, including the purchase price, transfer duties, and potential renovations, can be more accurately estimated and budgeted for. This clarity allows for more effective financial planning, reducing the risk of unexpected expenses that are often encountered in building projects. The ability to forecast and manage costs is a crucial advantage for homebuyers, particularly in an economic environment where financial certainty is highly valued.

Access to Amenities and Established Infrastructure:

One of the salient benefits of buying an existing home is immediate access to established infrastructure. These properties are often located in neighbourhoods with mature landscaping, well-developed roads, and established community facilities. This aspect is particularly appealing to those who value a sense of community and the convenience of having established amenities within easy reach. Furthermore, the existing infrastructure often includes schools and shopping areas, essential for families and individuals prioritising accessibility and community integration.

Disadvantages of Buying a House:

The Possibility of Necessary Renovations:

One of the more significant disadvantages of purchasing an existing home is the potential need for renovations, particularly with older properties. These homes might not be in line with current design trends or personal tastes, requiring substantial updates to meet modern living standards. Renovations can be a costly and time-consuming process, involving everything from minor cosmetic changes to major structural alterations. This need for refurbishment can add a significant financial burden to the initial purchase cost and may disrupt living arrangements during the renovation period.

Financial Implications of Bond Registration and Transfer Costs:

When buying an existing home, one must be prepared for the associated financial obligations that extend beyond the purchase price. These include bond registration fees and transfer duties, which can be substantial. These costs are an added financial burden and must be factored into the overall budget. This aspect is particularly important for buyers who are stretching their finances to afford a property, as these additional costs can strain their budget.

Risks Associated with ‘Voetstoots’ Purchases:

Another notable disadvantage is the common practice of buying homes ‘voetstoots’ (as is), particularly prevalent in older properties. This means that the house is purchased in its existing condition, with all its faults and defects, whether visible or hidden. The onus is on the buyer to identify any latent defects before finalising the purchase. Failing to do so can lead to unforeseen repair costs after the sale, potentially turning a dream home into a financial nightmare. This risk necessitates thorough inspections and sometimes even expert advice before committing to the purchase, adding to the complexity and cost of the buying process.

Advantages of Building a House:

Custom Design and Personalisation:

Building your own house offers the unparalleled benefit of personalising every aspect of the home. This customisation extends from the foundational design to the minute details of interior fittings and finishes. This ability to tailor the property to your exact specifications and preferences ensures that your new home not only meets but also reflects your style and needs. This level of customisation is particularly attractive to those who have a clear vision of their ideal home.

Reduced Maintenance and Enhanced Energy Efficiency:

New constructions are generally built with modern materials and techniques, resulting in lower ongoing maintenance costs compared to older properties. Furthermore, a newly built home can incorporate the latest energy-efficient technologies, from insulation to eco-friendly heating systems, significantly reducing energy costs in the long run. This aspect not only aligns with contemporary environmental concerns but also offers financial savings on utility bills.

Tax Benefits and Unique Personal Value:

Building a new house can provide tax benefits such as the ability to claim depreciation over several years. Additionally, constructing a home from scratch adds a unique sentimental value, knowing that you and your family are the first to inhabit it. There’s an incomparable sense of achievement and emotional attachment that comes with watching your dream home take shape from the ground up.

Upfront Savings by Eliminating Transfer Duty:

A significant financial benefit of building a house is the avoidance of transfer duty, a cost incurred when purchasing an existing property. By building your own home, you bypass this expense, leading to considerable upfront savings. This advantage is particularly noteworthy in the context of South Africa’s property market and can make a substantial difference in the overall affordability of the project.

Modern Finishes and Adherence to Latest Building Codes:

Building a new home ensures that you have the most up-to-date finishes and that your property adheres to the latest building codes and safety standards. This aspect is not only essential for ensuring the safety and integrity of your home but also for incorporating modern trends and innovations in building design and technology.

Disadvantages of Building a House:

Longer Completion Time with Risks of Delays and Complications:

One of the primary challenges of building a house is the time it takes from inception to completion. This process can often be prolonged due to various factors such as planning issues, delays in construction, and unforeseen complications. These delays can be exacerbated by factors such as inclement weather, bureaucratic hurdles, or coordination issues among different contractors. The uncertain timeline can pose significant challenges, especially for those who require a predictable move-in date.

Higher Estimated Costs Compared to Buying:

Financially, building a house is generally more expensive than buying an existing one. On average, constructing a new home can cost 20-30% more. This increased cost is attributed to various factors, including the price of land, construction materials, labour, and design and architectural services. Additionally, the cost of building a house often escalates beyond initial estimates due to unforeseen expenses, making it a potentially more costly option.

Need for Additional Budgeting:

When planning to build a house, it is prudent to factor in additional costs that may arise unexpectedly. A general rule of thumb is to factor in an extra 10% to 20% of your budget to cover these unforeseen expenses. This additional financial cushion is essential to manage costs related to breakages, delays, or any escalation in prices of materials and services. This extra budgeting can significantly increase the overall financial burden and requires careful financial planning and management.

Decision-Making Tips

Assess Your Needs: Consider your family size, lifestyle preferences, and plans. For instance, do you need a home office, or is proximity to schools more important?

Financial Planning: Beyond the purchase or building costs, factor in long-term expenses like maintenance, renovations, and possible interest rate changes.

Seek Professional Advice: Consult with real estate experts, financial advisors, and architects to understand all aspects of your decision. Their insights can provide a broader perspective on market trends, construction costs, and property values.

Emotional Readiness: Building a new home can be a long and sometimes stressful process. Ensure you are prepared for the commitment and potential delays. Conversely, when buying, be ready to make compromises on certain aspects of the house.

Consider Future Developments: Research the potential growth and development plans for the area where you are considering buying or building. This can significantly affect the long-term value and lifestyle quality.

Weighing Pros and Cons: Draw up a list of advantages and disadvantages for both options. This visual aid can help in objectively comparing the choices based on your specific criteria.

Future Flexibility: Think about how easy it would be to sell the property or make alterations in the future. Some areas or house designs might offer more flexibility than others.


The decision to build or buy a house is not merely a financial one; it’s deeply rooted in personal circumstances, lifestyle choices, and long-term goals. Whether you dream of crafting a home from the ground up to meet your exact specifications or prefer the charm and convenience of an existing home, the choice is intensely personal.

It’s paramount to approach this decision with a comprehensive understanding of all the factors involved. This includes not only the apparent costs but also the less tangible aspects like the emotional connection to a home, the lifestyle it will offer, and its potential long-term value.

As we have seen, both paths have their unique set of advantages and challenges. By carefully weighing these against your circumstances and preferences, you can make an informed and personalised decision that best suits your lifestyle and financial situation. Remember, whether building or buying, you are not just investing in a property, but in a place that you will call home.