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Heritage Month: Have you ever considered owning a part of history? Then you NEED to read this

Published Sep 24, 2021


Heritage properties can be gracious and spacious but they often come with cumbersome regulations governing maintenance and renovations.

Heritage homes are often desired for their character and unique design, plus the fact that by owning one is literally owning a piece of the country’s history.

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Many people are, however, wary of buying such properties due to the high prices they command and the potentially excessive maintenance they require, says Tony Clarke, managing director of the Rawson Property Group.

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And while there are also seemingly endless rules and regulations that govern their preservation and care, the realities of owning a heritage property “are not always as imposing as they may seem”.

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There are many pluses to owning a heritage property. “Some of them are intangible – the pride and prestige that comes from owning something truly one of a kind; of living in, and taking care of, a real piece of our country’s past – and some of them are actually quite down to earth and practical.”

In addition, Clarke says many heritage properties in South Africa occupy prime locations on larger-than-normal, well-established grounds. Their rooms tend to be more spacious and elegantly proportioned than their modern counterparts and their high ceilings and architectural detailing are often complemented by luxury finishes like hardwoods and exotic marble.

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“It’s these factors that influence the desirability – and therefore the price – of heritage homes. The fact that they have heritage status is often completely incidental – any beautiful, spacious home with expensive finishes on a larger plot than its neighbours will command a higher price than one with less to offer.”

Echoing this, Richard Day, Pam Golding Properties national general manager and regional managing director in the Cape – where there is an array of historical properties – says many of these homes were built in sought-after locations near to the sea or the mountains, making them popular investment properties today.


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Owning a piece of history comes with certain responsibilities. “It’s important to work with an experienced agent who can advise you about the regulations and restrictions applicable to your home and refer you to specialists who are experienced in historical renovations should you want to make any structural changes,” Day says.

“Bear in mind that your home could also be located in a Heritage Area, known in Cape Town as Heritage Protection Overlay Zones, which means that any building or renovations would also be subject to the requisite approvals.”

Clarke says this means it is important to be aware of the heritage status of the whole area, as well as the status of your own home, especially if you intend to do maintenance work or any kind of renovation. “Heritage properties are protected by law at national, provincial and local levels and you’ll need to check with your municipality to get the specific details which are applicable to your exact property.”


Clarke says, broadly speaking, there are three tiers of rules which apply to anyone who owns a heritage property or a property in a heritage area.

Tier oneis a Heritage Overlay Zone, usually found in historical suburbs like Chelsea Village in Cape Town. It protects the unique character and style of an area as a whole, and affects all the properties in the zone, regardless of their individual heritage status.

Tier twois specific to individual properties and applies to any building older than 60 years or of particular architectural value. Tier three applies only to buildings officially classified as National Monuments or Provincial Heritage Sites.

“If your property falls into any of these tiers, you’ll need to get approval for any building work you plan to do,” Clarke says. “The higher the tier, the more stringent the rules, but that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily have to bend over backwards to put a new coat of paint on your home.”

He says the purpose of heritage regulations is to preserve buildings of historical importance for future generations. “As long as you aren’t trying to make changes that will detract from the historical importance of your property, or the properties around you, you shouldn’t have trouble getting the necessary approvals.”

Maintenance and renovations

Adrian Goslett, regional director and chief executive of Re/Max of Southern Africa, recommends that homeowners check if the home is registered as a heritage property before going ahead with any major renovations.

“The National Heritage Resources Act of 1999 states that if the home has been around for more than 60 years then it is considered a heritage property and homeowners will need to get in touch with the relevant Provincial Heritage Resources Authority before going ahead with any structural changes.

While this may seem cumbersome, it is always better to get the necessary planning approvals upfront as these documents will be required when the homeowner decides to sell.”

For many owners of historical homes, the history of the property is what makes it appealing, Goslett says.

Therefore, when modernising a home with old-world character, the key is to update only what is needed to make the space more functional.

“Restoring a heritage property to its former glory, while incorporating all the modern conveniences, will add immense value to the home.” At a minimum, he suggests that homeowners consider structural renovations first.

“Older homes tend to be poorly insulated and might be structurally unsound owing to the age of the building materials. To start, replace rotten wooden windows and door frames with alternatives such as aluminium. Have a plumber inspect the pipes in the bathrooms and kitchens.”

Homes built in the late 1800s and the 1900s often have cast iron or galvanised pipes which have a lifespan of around 30 to 40 years, he says. “To avoid leaks, replace these with PVC pipes.”

“Roofs also tend to have a lifespan of around 30 to 50 years (depending on the materials). Contact a roofing specialist to find out if the roof needs to be replaced or repaired. “These structural repairs will not only add value to the property but should also make it more comfortable to live in.”

Interior updates

In terms of updating the interior features of the home, homeowners will need to make the call on whether features have character or are simply outdated.

“Certain design choices were fads that have come and gone, like shell-shaped vanities and carpeted bathrooms.

“Others, like claw-foot bathtubs and crown moulding, remain incredibly popular among buyers,” Goslett says.

Homeowners may also need to introduce modern conveniences to the home. “Some older homes might not have been plumbed to accommodate a dishwasher and/or washing machine in the kitchen or scullery.

“They also most certainly did not come with security cameras or alarm systems. It could add great value to the home to add these features.”

Day says: “Make sure that you also know your own requirements before taking on a heritage property. Significant changes to the building could alter the distinctive historical features that made the property appealing in the first place.

“Also ensure that you have budgeted for any renovations you may do, as changes to historical structures – once approved by the relevant authorities – may require specialist builders that could prove costly.”

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