Words: Kit Heathcock & Miriam Mannak  Images: Shutterstock & Supplied

With the rising popularity of estate living in South Africa, sectional title property purchases are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, sectional title purchases in South Africa have grown by up to 5% per year since 2003, according to a recent Lightstone Property report. Kent Gush, MD, Kent Gush Properties, says “South African buyers are becoming more accustomed to apartment living and we have definitely seen a trend towards this and away from the traditional free-standing home.”

Jessica Hofmeyr, head of operations, sales and marketing, Century Property Developments, is not surprised. Firstly, it’s easier to source finance for a sectional title property. “One can have bonds of up to 100% approved, provided the property is located in a desirable area,” she says, noting that developers prefer building sectional title units to freehold homes in sought-after areas where land is expensive. This makes a project more financially feasible. “What also drives this growth is location and amenities in the area, including proximity to schools, shopping centres, hospitals and access to highway infrastructure,” she says.

Craft Homes marketing manager Jessica Cabanita agrees. “Sectional title homes are usually less expensive and provide less hassle because one typically buys off plan,” she explains.

What is sectional title?

Examples of sectional title schemes are apartment buildings, secure estates and other developments which include shared communal areas and facilities. When you buy into such a complex you purchase full ownership of a section (your apartment or house), plus an undivided share of the common property. As owner of a section you automatically become a member of the body corporate of the sectional title scheme, which owns and manages the common property. Monthly levies cover maintenance, security, building insurance and other related costs.

What to consider before buying

“The first thing to do is make sure you understand the obligations of an owner of property under the Sectional Title Act 95 of 1986, which prescribes management and conduct rules that apply to all sectional title schemes and covers the framework for running such a scheme,” advises Jarryd Phillips, Berman Brothers Properties.

Next is to look at the rules established by the body corporate for the scheme. These may vary, but common things to check are whether pets are allowed, is short-term letting, for example AirBnB, permitted, and what restrictions there may be to home alterations or improvements.  

Checks to do

It is essential to check the financials of the body corporate. Establish which ordinary and special levies are payable in respect of the unit you are considering buying, and find out whether there’s a chance that a special levy will have to be called for in the near future. Special levies can be voted in by the trustees to cover additional or unforeseen expenses not included in the monthly levy, such as installation of a new security system or major renovations to common property.

When looking at the financials, make sure the sectional title scheme is solvent: are there excessive outstanding levies which might compromise the upkeep of the property? Look to see if the body corporate runs things themselves or whether a third-party managing agent is responsible for everyday matters. Speak to current residents to see if they’re happy with the management of the scheme.

“Sectional title homebuyers should look out for a ‘right of extension’ clause in their sale agreement,” adds Phillips. “It could make a big difference to your property’s future value.” This clause reserves the right of the developer or body corporate to extend the scheme by adding further buildings at a later date. A right of extension must be registered with exact details of how many further sections will be built, and where, how they will affect existing sections, and also specify a time frame.

Advantages and disadvantages

Sectional title units usually have the advantage over freehold properties of the additional security from the shared systems in place. “We’re definitely seeing buyers opt for sectional title units with good security over freehold homes,” says Chris Tyson, CEO, Tyson Properties.

There’s also the added bonus of having a community of neighbours who look out for each other and the common areas. They may include additional amenities such as swimming pools, gyms, clubhouses or other attractions, and typically are popular with those who enjoy a lock-up-and-go lifestyle. Maintenance costs are shared and generally the initial purchase price is lower than a comparable freehold property.

A possible downside is that you’re buying into a community with its own rules, which can restrict your freedom to do whatever you want to your property. Decisions about any major changes are made by vote within the body corporate, so you have to be comfortable with community decision-making processes. Because a scheme that is badly run will affect the value and saleability of your investment, it is in the interests of owners to play an active role in the body corporate, both to protect their investment and to get the most from the community lifestyle.

People want more than just a place to stay. They’re looking for a lifestyle.

Leon Cohen, CEO, Rabie Property Group

What is the body corporate?

According to Just Property CEO Paul Stevens: “The body corporate is made up of all the owners and governed by a board of trustees. All the relevant information is in the Management and Conduct Rules for each scheme which every estate agent should make available to buyers in the scheme.”

The body corporate of a scheme comes into existence as soon as the sectional title register is opened and continues to exist as long as the scheme continues.

Stevens suggests, “It’s an advantage to owners if the body corporate includes an estate agent who is well versed in relevant legislation – there can often be a conflict between owners in sectional title schemes and the body corporate (whose function is to manage and maintain the property). For example, who pays for what.”

Sectional title developments across SA:

Gauteng

  • Sandton Gate
  • Steyn City
  • Kikuyu Waterfall
  • Polofields
  • Ellipse Waterfall

Western Cape

  • The Aster
  • Buh-Rein Estate
  • Century City
  • Burgundy Estate
  • Clara Anna Fontein
  • Sitari Country Estate

KwaZulu-Natal

  • @88
  • The Atrium
  • Sabuti in the Simbithi Eco Estate
  • Giant’s View
  • Sibaya