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Thinking of going green? Property experts explain how making your home sustainable is a win-win

Published Nov 22, 2021


If the desire to save money and live more sustainably were not enough to convince South Africans to “green” their homes, the frustrations of load shedding – and in some areas water supply issues – are pushing them to change.

And although the main motivation might not be ecological, our environment will benefit. Another plus is when owners sell their green homes, they could pocket a little extra money. Grahame Diedericks, manager principal for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Midrand, notes the reason many homeowners are installing sustainable-living features in their homes has shifted.

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“Previously, the focus was largely on cost-saving but with the difficulties, we are experiencing at present with the supply of electricity and, often, water, it is becoming a common need for homeowners to be more independent with their water and electrical needs,” he says.

This also means there is a positive financial return when selling due to the demand for green home solutions. Samuel Seeff, chairperson of the Seeff Property Group, says while consciousness of the precarious state of the environment ranks high on many people’s home buying agendas, he agrees that it is, increasingly, the country’s woes in terms of water, electricity and other services that are driving homeowners to upgrade their homes to be energy and water-efficient.

At a basic level, this includes lighting, solar geysers, heating, water gathering and storage tanks. “These are, of course, all contributing to a reduction in one’s carbon footprint while at the same time making homes more sustainable,” Seeff says.

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And with many people spending much of their time indoors, the importance of a healthy building is self-evident, says Anthony Stroebel, head of new business development for Pam Golding Properties and a director of the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA). “There is a growing awareness that the quality of our indoor environments plays an increasingly important role in our overall productivity, health and wellness.”

Buying green

Interestingly, Seeff says that neighbourhoods where local communities help to keep them clean – including clearing litter from green belts, streams and rivers – are becoming desirable when buyers shop for a home.

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Diedericks says the most frequently asked question from buyers at present is to do with solar and generator back-up, again linked to the country’s electricity issues. “If the green features will save them money over time, then most buyers are willing to pay more but now, with load shedding increasing, I think buyers will also be more than willing to pay more to avoid the inconvenience of being without power.”

Seeff adds that while green features add value, buyers do not want to have to pay excessive premiums for such features. “They still want good value and a fair price.”

Selling green

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His advice for homeowners and prospective sellers is: “When you install green features, consider the costs versus the value that it will add. Do not do it just to get a higher price.” Stroebel says property owners are increasingly realising that incorporating green-living design into their homes is not only significantly contributing to the value of what is usually their primary asset, but also increasing its “sellability” if and when they decide to move.

“A green home typically sells at a premium to other regular homes of a similar size and location and, more than likely, also sooner.”

As people adjust to life in the post-Covid world, he says, it seems green building will finally be embraced by the mainstream. “While sustainable, green living offers welcome utility efficiencies it is essentially a more holistic concept. Stretching from upstream considerations, such as building materials and design, all the way downstream to energy consumption and waste generation, a sustainable lifestyle is – at its heart – about the quality of life and the future health of the planet.”

Building green

While certain developers are leaning towards solar options for power and geysers, Diedericks says this is generally not yet a non-negotiable request from potential buyers. He adds that although “green” building is still a matter of choice in South Africa, revised building regulations promulgated in 2011 stipulate that all new buildings must be constructed in accordance with a list of energy-efficient specifications.

These cover aspects such as roofing, insulation, water heating and lighting. Echoing this, Seeff says new builds, both free-standing and in estates and sectional title complexes, are now generally as a matter of course equipped with green building features. However, these often go much further in terms of use of sustainable building materials and so on.

“We do find that these features can be costly for lower-income households but they are certainly in demand and add value to your property, especially in the upper price bands.” While most new developments include solar heating and water harvesting and recycling, as well as indigenous gardens, at a basic level, some have more sophisticated features.

Commercial property greening

Stroebel says South Africa is a leader in the growing global green building sector but, initially, the focus has been on the commercial sector. The benefits are already evident. “It is estimated that green buildings reduce operating costs by 8% on average – primarily through reduced energy and water usage as well as lower long-term operating and maintenance costs,” he says.

The GBCSA recently announced that 140 buildings had been certified over the past year – a record number, illustrating the growing momentum of green building in the country. Chief executive Lisa Reynolds says that certified green buildings have “held their own”, as far as vacancy and return rates go, over the past year.

“Property owners, tenants and investors are now insisting on better, certified green buildings, as the environmental and financial benefits of these, become indisputable. “To date, the GBCSA has certified 740 buildings since 2009.”

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