Finding the perfect home for work and life

Estate agents are increasingly fielding queries from prospective buyers about properties in which to live and work, especially in the age of the mobile office, but you need to know what to look for or you could be house hunting again very soon.

That's according to Lew Geffen, chairman of Lew Geffen Sotheby's International Realty, who says if your business is confined to you and your computer then you can work just about anywhere. However, if the business involves clients coming to the premises then the game changes.

"There are certain businesses you can run from home, but if the operation is going to involve any sort of retail aspect, then issues such as location and off- street parking come into the equation and unless you know what to look for ahead of time you could get burnt," Geffen says.

Maryna Botha, specialist property attorney at Smith Tabata Buchanan Boyes (STBB), says for those thinking of running a business from a residential property, it is essential to consult the guidelines laid down in the applicable municipal zoning scheme and/or land use planning ordinances.

Botha says that as a general rule, for conventional residential property to be used for a home occupation, the "dominant use of the property must remain the accommodation of a single family, the proprietor of the activity must live on the property and no more than three employees may be engaged in the activity concerned".

Regardless, local councils should always be consulted. So, when looking to buy property to live in and to run a business from, it is necessary to consult the zoning provisions and the local council wherever you are and, according to Geffen, consider where the property is in relation to other local businesses, shopping centres or high streets.

"If part of the reason for buying a new property is for business, then you need to consider the 'where' for the business and not just the 'where' for where you want to live," Geffen says.

Using the City of Cape Town's zoning scheme regulations as an example, Botha says that if you want to run a business from a home and the home is zoned as Single Residential 1, the home must still primarily be used as the home for a single family - because that's what it's zoned for.

But she says there are additional use rights associated with such zoning, being to conduct a home occupation, bed and breakfast or a home child care facility from the property, subject to certain conditions.

"The intended use of the property or type of business also comes with a host of further regulations such as having just one unilluminated sign outside (not bigger than 0.2m²), and if you intend to sell anything it must have been manufactured on the premises," says Botha.

Geffen says people often look to buy houses to turn them into bed and breakfast establishments; especially people who are newly retired or young couples wanting to supplement their incomes.

"You can do this easily in a residential area if you have bedrooms to spare, but there are a few things to keep in mind when you're house hunting for this type of property. The first is that the location has to be commercially viable. If you're not on a tourist route or near a major business centre, then try to locate yourself close to a university.

"Also remember that you have to live on site and you need to comply with minimum offstreet parking requirements for the rooms you let, plus you will need one or two for yourself."

Geffen says the best thing to do, if you're property hunting and intend to work from home, is to contact a reputable agent and explain exactly what you need. "An agent should be able to guide you through the zoning and legal hoops and make sure that - if necessary - you have legal advice before you go ahead and make a purchase.

"Buying a house is for most people the biggest purchase they'll ever make and especially if it has to double as the place you earn your income, you simply can't afford to make a mistake," Geffen says.

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