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HANDY MAC: Don’t take risks

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Times are tough in the building industry, affecting everyone from contractors to workers and clients

We are living in interesting and challenging times. So ended the March newsletter from Allen Bodill, executive director of the Master Builders Association Western Cape. Over the last few weeks, I have been bemoaning the state of our industry, and reading the newsletter reinforced my views.

Allen writes: “The construction sector across South Africa appears to be heading into ‘perfect storm’ conditions… the serious nature of which was once again highlighted by the recent FNB/Bureau for Economic Research Civil Confidence Index survey, which indicates confidence in this sector declined to its lowest level in the first three months of 2019, with 90% of respondents reporting dissatisfaction with the prevailing business conditions in the sector.”

This is not just bad news for contractors. It affects everyone across the board, from the lowest-paid worker to the wealthiest client. I want to reinforce the risks we are opening ourselves up to by taking the following options.

As a client, beware of accepting a price that is so low it is obvious it is only going to end in heartbreak. A brick costs R2.50, a registered, compliant general worker costs the contractor around R365 a day. It is impossible to work below these costs unless you are dealing with stolen bricks or under-paid labour. These are just examples, but a cost is a cost, and then you still have to get your labour and materials to site, supervise them and make a profit.

With cash flow being so tight, few contractors can operate without asking for a deposit, but negotiate this and ensure the amount is reasonable.

To my fellow contractors, our reputation is at an all-time low, so please don’t make it worse by bending the rules or cutting corners. We have to adapt to the situation and ensure the structures protecting us remain in place.

Q and A

Give the tired cement flooring in your yard a makeover. Picture: Supplied

Pamela wants to spruce up her garden.

Q:We have been living in our house, which we bought new, for 30 odd years. The washing line area outside the kitchen door is in need of a makeover, especially the original cement floor which is cracking and has a few holes in it. Do you have suggestions for giving it a makeover?

A: We all have our own ideas when it comes to taste and what we find pleasing to the eye. For me, this area needs to be practical and functional instead of “pretty”.

However, I must admit we have a similar problem at home, so I have been applying my mind. The first step is to check if the floor screed is repairable. There is no sense in chucking good money after bad. So, begin by ensuring the screed is solid and not breaking up or delaminating. This is a simple operation. 

Just tap the screed with a solid stick and listen for a hollow sound. If you find a few loose areas, I would recommend getting it all up and starting again. 

However, if it is solid, get a good repair grout and fill in the holes and cracks . You must ensure you clean out all loose dust and debris first, to ensure a clean bonding surface for the grout. Please use a proper repair material – sand and cement is not going to last.

Now you can apply whatever finish you want. Imitation lawn I have not made up my mind on this one. I tend to think the good quality ones are a tad expensive, however, my son did a big section of their back garden and is satisfied.


Get a good quality, non-slip tile. In a washing line area there is going to be a fair amount of water around and you don’t want anyone slipping.


I would not go to the expense of putting down an epoxy floor finish and would probably settle for paint. Remember the best paint to put on an outside floor is a roof paint. You might choose one of the specialist floor finishes used around swimming pools.


Obviously, if you have facebrick or timber walls they should remain with their natural finish, otherwise go with a good quality paint finish and a nice, bright colour to keep the washing happy. Seriously, you want a colour or finish that is going to reflect the heat back onto the washing.


An idea we have tried is to put flower boxes on the walls to grow herbs. As you are always out there, they are not going to be neglected and are always handy for cooking. Just be careful not to position the boxes so they snag the washing when the wind blows.


The couple I am helping to have their home split, so they can rent out part, have had their plans approved . Now I am helping them to fi nd a builder . A few of you have chatted to me about dividing homes .

The most important thing I must warn you about is the council’s development fee. The council’s website says: “A development charge is a once-off capital charge paid by a developer to the City of Cape Town to cover the cost of municipal engineering services needed as a result of the intensifi cation of land use. (They) are imposed at the time of a land development application, and are calculated to determine the pro rata share of the capital cost of municipal infrastructure required to service a development.”

The council is saying they have to provide more services, such as sewerage , to your split home. The amount charged on a small residence is not much but it is something to take into account if you are planning to divide your home.

Tip of the week

Notify your insurer if your building is vacant. Picture: Sierra Bell

Ron Petersen of Master Builders Insurance offers the following comment on looking after your property when it is vacant. With the prevailing tight credit conditions, declining rental income and increase in unpaid mortgage loans, building owners are feeling the pinch as more and more buildings are becoming vacant.

Many policy holders are not aware of the restrictions in their property insurance when a building is vacant. Exclusions found in most commercial building policies address vacancy by including the following limitations.

If a building is vacant for more than 30 consecutive days before a loss, there is no cover for loss caused by : ◆ Malicious damage. ◆ Theft or attempted theft.

To reduce the likelihood of litigation and losses to a vacant building, you need to take precautions. Begin by notifying your insurer about the vacancy so the correct cover on the building can be arranged . 

*If you have a question for Don, please send it to or SMS only to 0824463859. Find more:  


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