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Heritage properties: What homebuyers are in for

Owning a heritage property means owning a piece of history. Know the regulations that govern heritage properties and the benefits of purchasing one.

Heritage Property

Article summary

  • Heritage properties are protected by the National Heritage Resources Act which restricts renovations for any property older than 60 years.
  • You’ll need to obtain a permit from your Provincial Heritage Resources Authority (PHRA) before conducting any renovations.
  • Contact your PHRA to find out the application process and fee.

There’s something special about owning a piece of history. Imagine sitting in front of a roaring fireplace in a grand Victorian manor, or relaxing in the garden of a charming Cape Dutch cottage.

Maybe you’re put off by the regulations that govern such a purchase. But it’s not as complicated as you think.

Here we provide a brief overview of what homeowners need to know about investing in a heritage property. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll feel more confident about doing so.

The law

The National Heritage Resources Act (25 of 1999) (NHRA) restricts renovations for any property that is more than 60 years old.

It further divides heritage properties into three grades:

  • Grade I heritage sites include buildings with national significance, such as union buildings protected by SAHRA (The South African Heritage Resources Agency).
  • Grade II heritage sites refer to buildings with provincial significance, such as St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.
  • Grade III heritage sites apply to buildings deemed important for conservation.

Naturally, most heritage homes will fall within Grade III.

A copy of the NHRA can be found on the South African Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA) website.

Who manages the heritage properties?

  • National heritage sites are managed by SAHRA.
  • Provincial heritage sites are managed by the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority (PHRA) for the province. This is the organisation you’ll be dealing with when seeking information and permits related to your heritage building.

PHRAs include the following:

  • Eastern Cape Provincial Heritage Resources Authority (ECPHRA).
  • Free State Heritage Resources Authority (FSHRA).
  • Heritage Western Cape (HWC).
  • Limpopo Provincial Heritage Resources Authority (LIHRA).
  • Northern Cape Provincial Heritage Authority.
  • Provincial Heritage Resources Authority Gauteng (PHRAG).

How do I know if a property is older than 60 years?
Your nearest municipal plans will have the original building plans along with the date of construction.

Is a property older than 60 years automatically a heritage site?
It will have protection under the heritage legislation but will not automatically be deemed a heritage site.

You can get your property declared as a heritage site by applying to your PHRA.

Some provincial authorities may even offer financial incentives for purchasing a heritage property as you’ll be playing a role in conserving it. For example, The City of Joburg offers a 20% rate rebate for owners of provincial heritage sites

You can find out the process by contacting the relevant PHRA or checking their website. For example, in the case of the Western Cape, you’d have to complete a provincial heritage site nomination application form.

Making renovations to the site

This is the key question heritage property buyers will be asking. Heritage properties, being older properties, may require maintenance and alterations.

You will need to apply for a permit from your PHRA if you plan to destroy, damage, deface, excavate, alter, remove from its original position, subdivide or change the planning status of a declared or provisionally declared heritage site.

You require a permit for any property older than 60 years, even if it has not been officially classified as a heritage site.

Making alterations to heritage properties without a permit carries a penalty and perhaps even a jail sentence.

What if the property has already been altered before?
You will still need to apply for a permit for any future alterations.

How do I apply for a permit?

You can contact your PHRA to find out the process for applying for a permit and the fee for doing so.

For example, in the Western Cape, the process will be as follows:

Aside from the application form, you’ll need to submit the following documents:

  • Proof of payment with the correct reference number.
  • Title Deed.
  • A Power of Attorney,  if the owner did not sign the application form.
  • Stamped, coloured up, scaled plans. A minimum of 2 sets not smaller than A3 sized.
  • Locality Plan.
  • Annotated Photographs of the interior, exterior and streetscape.

Professionals who can help

Before you even begin the planning process you’ll need to employ a heritage-sensitive architect to help you plan the renovations. They can advise you on the regulations and impact of structural changes.

Employing an estate agent when purchasing a heritage home is not compulsory but certainly helpful. They will be able to advise you on regulations applying to any heritage property you’ve got your eye on.

Own a piece of history

The regulations may seem overwhelming at first but you can easily navigate them with the help of an estate agent, architect, and consultation with your PHRA. It’s worth it for the chance to own a property rich in history, and many heritage sites include elegant architecture and spacious interiors due to being built at a time when space was not so limited.

Before applying for a home loan, you should get prequalified to find out what you can afford. Prequalification assesses your financial situation and determines your purchasing power, and the successful prequalification will help persuade the bank you can afford the home loan on the property in question.

You can get prequalified by contacting an expert at ooba Home Loans or by using our free, online prequalification tool, the Bond Indicator.

Get prequalified for a home loan today

DIY with our online prequalification tool, or speak to an expert.


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