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Zoning may scupper plans to set up residential space as a workplace

Traffic congestion, rising fuel costs and technological capabilities continue to boost the remote working trend, with growing numbers of employees in South Africa and worldwide working from satellite offices or from home.

Last year, the City of Cape Town called on businesses to consider letting employees work flexi-hours to avoid peak traffic, or work from their residences.
Self-employed individuals can now work from anywhere. 

Properties marketed as having home offices, or space to run offices from home, are becoming increasingly popular.
Conveyancers are, however, warning that buyers should always check the zoning of such properties as some marketed as perfect for home businesses may not be zoned for such use. 

PJ Veldhuizen, chief executive of Gillan and Veldhuizen attorneys, says a recent case in Grahamstown saw the court ruling that the owner of a day spa, operating her business from home, was in contravention of zoning regulations. She was interdicted from operating her business from home.

Work-from-home properties are often sold by residential agents rather than commercial real estate agents, and this is where problems arise, says Leon Breytenbach, commercial manager for the Rawson Property Group. 

There is no guarantee the agent has the necessary commercial experience to advise buyers about business zoning issues. 

While this is not always the case, Breytenbach says he has noticed many buyers and tenants are faced with the frustration and annoyance of learning the property cannot legally fulfil the purpose they had intended when they bought it.

“Business opportunities in Single Residential Zone 1 properties are quite restricted. You can generally run a small home industry, a bed and breakfast, or a child care facility, but there are specific limitations on all of those and anything else that requires special zoning.”

He also warns that neighbours are unlikely to “just look the other way”.

“Increased traffic, decreased parking space, noise, smells and large signage are likely to send them straight to the city planning department to lay a complaint.”

Homeowners do have the option to rezone their properties, but while this can dramatically increase the value, the process is time-consuming and complicated, Breytenbach says.

However, if a homeowner is running a small business from their property with only two or three staff members and the occasional client visit, there is no need to rezone the home, says Adrian Goslett, regional director and chief executive of Re/Max Southern Africa. 

But they will have to carefully consider where to work in the home, and how to set up an area suitable for productivity.
Kaitlyn Lo, a blogger and writer who also has a background in psychology, says because humans are creatures of habit, they associate certain locations or areas in a home with the activities that take place in them.

“If you usually binge Netflix shows on your desktop computer, you’ll find it very hard to switch to work mode on the same machine.”

For this reason, employees who work from home should choose a part of their house or apartment where they will only do work.

“Ideally, choose a space with a door that separates yourself from the rest of your house. Equip your home office with the same, or similar, tools that you would have at the actual office.”

Colours can also have a profound effect on one’s mind-set, with some colours making people feel more energised and others invoking feelings of calm. 

Home office workers should ensure the place they choose to work is decorated with colours that are not too bright, Lo advises.

“It’s best if the colours blend into the background and are harmonious so they don’t draw attention and distract you from your work.”

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