Property shopping for a home office – know your business zoning rights

Remote Working

With the traditional office space becoming passé, running a business from home seems like a modern and appealing option and entrepreneurs are embracing remote work and distributed work forces during the pandemic.

Home offices are certainly taking off in popularity says Craig Mott, Cape Town Regional Sales Manager for the Rawson Property Group. However, there are some legal restrictions that business owners need to be aware of.

If you are shopping for a property to live in and to work from you need to know your business zoning requirements.

Mott says that zoning is the number one hurdle for home businesses. “Most town planning schemes will make provision, without zoning from the municipality, for conducting of a profession or an occupation from a dwelling house as a primary right, sometimes referred to as a ‘home enterprise’” he says. However, this is if you meet certain criteria. Micro businesses such as attorneys, GPs, accountants, or dentists working from a study or consulting room at home may fall under this category.

While there is a chance that your business may not need commercial zoning, it is essential to check with a well-informed property profession before taking these legalities for granted. You do not want to get caught out when your home office is up and running, he says.

For larger businesses with a greater potential impact on the neighbourhood, business zoning needs to be in place to comply.

Unfortunately, zoning in South Africa can be a bit of a minefield, varying from city to city and suburb to suburb,” he says. “This can be further complicated by the fact that a lot of home office properties are sold by residential real estate agents who don’t always have the commercial knowledge to advise buyers on zoning. It’s best to get in touch with a commercial property advisor if possible or use a real estate agent from a brand like Rawson, which has a commercial component and facilitates knowledge-sharing between different franchises and specialties.”

Pro tip: Properties can be rezoned on application, but this isn’t always an easy process and is not guaranteed to succeed. It’s better to purchase (or rent) property with the right zoning in place already, but if you’ve fallen in love with a specific property, a good real estate broker or Town Planner will be able to advise you on the likelihood of getting it rezoned.

Understand your physical needs

Zoning is not the only requirement a property will need to meet to make a good home office. Running a business from home will require some specific spatial elements as well.

Obviously, you need an appropriate space within the home for an office,” says Mott. “What that means will vary depending on your operation. If you have staff or clients coming in every day, you will probably want a separate entrance, dedicated kitchenette and bathroom facilities. If it is just you, you can probably make do with a comfortable study in the main house.” 

Do not forget those fewer tangible needs like high-speed internet or three-phase electricity supply. Mott recommends creating a list of requirements to take with you when viewing potential properties.

Be conscious of your potential impact on neighbours

Mott also urges business owners to consider facilities like parking, which could be a source of bad blood between you and your neighbours.

“In neighbourhoods where parking is limited, it’s best to make sure you have enough off-street parking for any staff or clients,” he says. “Nothing gets neighbours’ backs up like having their driveways constantly blocked by visitors. Angry neighbours can cause big problems for home businesses, particularly those taking advantage of grey areas in zoning.”

Signage, noise, odours, and waste disposal can also be a source of aggravation for neighbours. Mott encourages business owners to think through their business processes to flag any potential irritations, and make sure the properties they view have the right layouts and facilities to minimise their impact.

Do not forget about security

One of the benefits of working from a traditional office space is the shared security of large commercial buildings. Working from home means setting up your security to keep that expensive business equipment and proprietary information safe. 

Security is vital for home businesses, so keep this in mind when viewing properties. A home that is easy to secure, or already has a top-tier security system in place is going to be a better option than one with a high-risk profile,” says Mott. “Properties within security complexes may be ideal for this reason, but don’t always meet the other requirements of a home business premises.”

Luckily, South African homeowners have been catching on to the home-office trend, and a lot of renovated properties accommodate a work-from-home situation.