Gated estates have great advantages - but check your contract carefully before signing on

Gated estates also known as security estates have now increased rapidly throughout South Africa – the latest figures indicate that there are now over 6,000, most of which are selling land or units at a 30% premium on conventional homes – and it becomes increasingly important to be selective in one’s choice of such estates, says Bill Rawson, Chairman of the Rawson Property Group.

“Many of these estates,” said Rawson, “have exceptionally good resident sales agents and the many proven advantages of estate living, which we all accept, are likely to be fully explained by them, while the finer points in the contract may well be glossed over.”

As a first step, said Rawson, it is absolutely essential to get from the Home Owners Association a copy of their financial accounts and to check with an independent qualified person whether the HOA is financially sound and professionally managed. On occasions it will be found that a scheme has virtually no reserves at all and is often breaking the law by not having an officially recognized set of rules by which they must operate, said Rawson.

When such rules do exist, he said, they can be unclear. Disputes, for example, have regularly arisen in regard to adhering to the architectural guidelines on the styles, colour schemes and allowable building areas. Then, too, there can be misunderstandings regarding the behaviour of children and residents. Such factors must be clearly understood at the outset before any contract is signed.

Quite often too, said Rawson, there can be unhappiness about levies. It is important before signing to establish not only how and when these are applied but also what annual increases are permitted. Enquiries should also be made as to whether special levies have been charged – and it becomes alarming if these have been a regular occurrence.

If communal facilities are or will be part of the package, said Rawson, it must be spelt out in detail what these are and what rights the residents will have in the use of them. Quite frequently communal facilities are part of some future phase, which may be a long time coming and in some cases have never materialized. It is also absolutely essential, said Rawson, to walk around the grounds to check out the state of the gardens, the paths, the swimming pools and other communal facilities.  Any signs of a neglected or shoddy appearance is a sign that the management of the project is not up to standard.

Then, too, said Rawson, the security arrangements must be inspected, added security being the number one reason why most people move to such estates. These days electrified fencing and perimeter beams are accepted as being necessary in all gated estates.

“All in all no one can deny that gated estates have added greatly to the security and happiness for many people in South Africa,” said Rawson. “Nevertheless there have been failures and badly run schemes and it is essential not to be carried away by enthusiasm but to check out fully the inherent value of these estates.”

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