Why container homes haven’t caught on in South Africa

Developed as an affordable housing option, the concept of container homes originated in Australia and many thought it would provide a solution to the housing crisis in South Africa.

However, rather than being regularly implemented in low-income areas, the trend seems to have gained more traction in the affluent market where people make use of containers to create multi-million rand examples of innovative architecture instead of affordable housing.

“Although containers are far more affordable than traditional bricks and mortar building costs, buying vacant land – particularly in areas where regulations allow container homes to be erected – is still costly and somewhat complicated to achieve,” says Adrian Goslett, regional director and chief executive of RE/MAX of Southern Africa.

Because this is a relatively new trend, zoning laws have yet to catch up, which makes the process of acquiring planning approval a tricky task. According to Goslett, even if you can find suitable vacant land, obtaining the appropriate financing can be a frustrating task.

“Most banks are reluctant to finance vacant land, as they view it as a high risk investment. As a result, the best deal you can usually secure is a 60% bond. The rest will have to be sourced from your own savings, or by taking out additional credit elsewhere – which would increase the likelihood that the bank will deny the home loan application. This explains why the trend is only getting picked up by middle to higher income earners rather than by low-income buyers,” Goslett says.

Beyond this, unless they are renovated on a grand scale, these homes also have the stigma of being low-cost and therefore lower quality than other forms of buildings. Although there are some drawbacks to container living, such as low ceilings, there are several companies that offer high quality container homes with comfort levels similar to normal housing but at a fraction of the cost.

However, to make a container home look and feel glamorous, buyers will need to spend a little more cash, especially on décor and furniture. Also, the companies that sell these homes have several price options, with the lowest costing option that promotional pamphlets love to quote being a very basic package – some of which even exclude fundamental insulation and panelling.

“For all of these reasons, it is understandable why the container home trend has not been adopted as widely across the low-cost housing sector in South Africa as it has been globally. While the trend has been picked up in some trendy areas and business districts across the country, it seems unlikely that it will spread too far beyond these boundaries in the near future,” Goslett concludes.