Buyers are often advised to check approved plans before making an offer to purchase. But who is responsible for making these plans available, and what happens if they don’t match reality?

Roger Lotz, franchisee for the Rawson Properties Helderberg Group, answers some of the most frequent questions about approved building plans and what is and isn’t required for a sale.

Are approved plans a legal requirement for sale?

There is a common misconception among buyers, sellers and even some property professionals that approved plans are a legal requirement for a sale. According to Lotz, however, it’s perfectly legal to sell a property without approved plans. It might just be a little trickier than if they were available.

“The trouble is, a lot of banks insist on seeing approved plans before granting buyers’ finance,” he says. “They basically want to make sure there’s nothing illegal about the structure that might impact the security of their investment. So, while you don’t legally need plans to sell, you may find it very difficult to secure a buyer without them unless you’re lucky enough to have a cash offer on the table.”

How do you get copies of your approved plans?

To get copies of approved plans, you’ll need to apply at your local district office. Application forms can usually be downloaded in advance, and can even be submitted by email in some municipalities.

“You’ll need to provide ID, your latest rates bill, ERF number and physical address,” says Lotz. “If you’re not the registered owner of the property, you’ll also need a copy of their ID and a letter of consent.”

Fees for plans searches vary by municipality, as do timelines. Some real estate agents will assist sellers with the process as part of their service.

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What happens if the approved plans don’t match the property?

There are many instances in which the approved plans lodged with the municipality don’t exactly match the property in question. This isn’t always because of illegal building work, however.

“It’s very common to find carports, pergolas, garden sheds and other minor structures missing altogether from approved plans,” says Lotz. “This is normally because planning permission wasn’t required when those structures were built. Unfortunately, planning permissions have changed, and even minor building works like these do now need to be reflected on your approved plans. If they’re not, you’ll need to get a draftsman to submit an updated version known as an ‘as built’ plan.”

Choosing not to update your plans can have serious repercussions, both for the current seller and any future buyers.

“Banks can refuse to finance properties where the plans show significant deviations from reality,” says Lotz. “If the sale goes through, however, buyers can also land in hot water if they want to renovate down the line. Council may refuse any new permissions, implement fines for unapproved structures, or even – in extreme cases – insist those structures are torn down.”

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Who is responsible for updating the approved plans?

While updating approved plans to match reality isn’t automatically the seller’s responsibility, Lotz says it’s definitely best practice to get this done in advance of a sale. Not doing so risks alienating potential buyers, or even stopping sales in their tracks if the outdated plans cause lenders to refuse finance.

“Nobody wants to add extra chores to seller’s already full pre-sale prep list, but out-of-date plans can cause very real delays when trying to sell,” he says. “It might be a pain – particularly when you weren’t even responsible for the building work in question – but it’s worth it to save even bigger headaches down the line.”

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How do you get your approved plans updated?

“To update your plans, you’ll need a registered architect or draftsperson to survey your property and create accurate, council-specific drawings,” says Lotz. “They can either submit these on your behalf – normally the fastest and most successful option – or, if you have plenty of time and patience, you can do it yourself.”

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