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You’ve bought a piece of land, you know exactly what you want to build and you have a budget. Where to now?

There’s something special about imagining and building your own home, but before you venture down that road, examine your budget, do some homework and speak to others who’ve chosen this route. It’s not for the faint-hearted, because on a budget, you need to be comfortable with compromise, otherwise you’ll be tapped out before you’ve reached the front door.

It seems cost-effective to reduce the services of professionals, do some of the work yourself and shop around. After all, you know exactly what you want, so why would you need an architect? Surely you can manage the project yourself? But be warned – managing a project of this nature is not simple; it’s time-consuming, and unless you have the required skills, mistakes can be costly. It’s also worth bearing in mind that, in most instances, an architect or, sometimes, a contractor, will have excellent buying relationships with suppliers. So, for example, a tile that would normally cost R100, they’ll obtain on your behalf for R75.

Torbjorn Hanssen, architect, U2 Design Lab, cautions against oversimplifying the process. “Yes, you might have some great, clear ideas as to what you want, but it’s more complex than simply drawing up a plan – particularly when you have a tight budget. Don’t waste your money on getting an architect to redesign a plan which the contractor can’t implement,” he says.

“Everything comes down to a square metre rate and inefficient or unwieldy designs are a big driver of costs. Passages, for example, are essentially wasted space, yet you’ll be paying the self-same R10,000 to R14,000 a square metre, as you will for your lounge. Passages are very simplistic, lazy ways to link rooms together, but they’re not imaginative, useful or cost-effective uses of space.

“One of the key elements of a professional house design is orientation – not simply which way the dwelling faces, but integral to that is compliance with the energy-effi ciency SANS 10400 legislation. There’s give and take in a compliant design, so in order to get your expansive east-facing windows to take in the sea view, it will be balanced out with a covered veranda/thickened glass/ louvres and so on. Orientation is second nature to an architect.
“An architect simplifi es the process. I get a brief from you. You hand me your wish list and we break it down into areas on a spreadsheet and from the outset establish costs, a budget. There are numerous elements which aff ect cost and I point them out.
“One of the costliest items when building a house is your choice of a roof. If your dream is open rafters, you may think it’s the less expensive option – no ceilings needed, so it must be. But it isn’t. They’re achievable, of course, and I’ll make sure you get them. You get them because I know how to design so as to maximise the ease with which rafters can be achieved.
“Many of the layman’s perceptions of less expensive options are not in fact valid. Or they may be valid at the outset, but they may have a shorter life or create other issues further down the track.”


1. If you envisage one day expanding your two-bedroom cottage into a four-bedroom family home, rather get that designed by your architect.

2. Project management is usually 30% of an architect’s fees, so if you have the staying power and skills to do it yourself, choose that option. It’s a major cost saver. But architect Torbjorn Hanssen suggests chatting to your architect about an hourly rate, so you could still have access to the him/ her if there are any issues on site.

Words: Anne Schauffer | Images: Supplied

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