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Solar is the new buzz word – but are buyers asking for it?

The idea of rooftop solar panels has gained popularity, in part due to the recent escalation of rolling Eskom blackouts, with no solution in sight, and partly due the announcement by President Ramaphosa during the recent SONA stating that private individuals who install rooftop solar panels from 1 March 2023 will be able to claim a rebate of 25% of the cost of the panels, up to a maximum of R15,000.

‘Solar’ has become a trending news topic, but are buyers looking for solar panels (or related energy generating measures) when buying? We reached out to several agents from around the country who share their experience.

Are you finding that buyers are asking to view properties that can mitigate loadshedding?

Giel: “We have not seen this trend yet, most people still view the home and see that as a value add if it can mitigate loadshedding, however, since January we have seen started seeing an escalation”.

Rory: “At the top end of the market in Sandton and surrounds, and especially among executives and professionals who are now working from home much of the time, this is pretty much regarded as a necessity now rather than a luxury, consequently, we don’t often get asked specifically for self-sufficient or off-the-grid homes.  However, those homes that do have alternative energy solutions already installed are more appealing to buyers and do sell faster.”

Barbara: “In the plush Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, many buyers have until recently been more concerned about water-saving and storage provisions than power backup systems, but this is changing now as the load-shedding problem becomes more severe.”

Vaughn: “Buyers are not specifically asking yet to only see homes with energy backup systems, but that the question does usually come up now during viewings. And when there is no system in place, buyers want to know if provision has been made to install one.”

Amanda: “Buyers in luxury winelands estates such as Val de Vie and Pearl Valley have the same sort of expectations as those in Johannesburg’s most affluent areas, it is a ‘given’ for our buyers that the owners of existing homes in these estates will already have retrofitted inverter and battery systems, and that any new builds will automatically include these and probably even solar systems that could see them operate completely off grid if necessary.”

Samuel: “Although aspects such as off-the-grid, greening and alternative energy sources/back-up systems, have generally been regarded as extras, these are now increasingly seen as a welcome addition, especially at the higher price bands above R1.8 million. It adds to the marketability of a property and adds value”.

Karryn: “Yes, most definitely. It is now one of the first questions potential buyers ask as they enter the property”.

The verdict: If they haven’t before, they are starting to now, especially at the higher end of the market.

Do alternative energy solutions increase the value of a property, and if so, by how much?

Andrew: “Property owners are increasingly realising that incorporating green living design into their homes is not only significantly contributing to the value of what, often, is their primary asset, but also increasing the ‘sellability’ when they decide to move. A green home typically sells at a premium to other regular homes of a similar size and location and more than likely also sooner”.

Samuel: “Our agents report that it is still mostly homes with hybrid systems coming onto the market, while properties offering full off-the-grid only rarely come onto the market.

In terms of the value added, there is no standard formula, and it depends on the particular features. For example, a solar geyser and a gas stove may not add much, perhaps around R10k to R20k depending on the property and neighbourhood.

More substantial features such as solar for heating the pool and as part of a back-up system for power outages along with energy-saving lighting and gas for cooking would add more value. On a standard 3-bed family house in a middle-class neighbourhood, priced at around R1.5 million, it might add another R150k depending on the features, the property itself, the neighbourhood and market”.

The verdict: Alternative energy solutions definitely increase the value of a property, how much depends on the property, and the solution – anything between R10k and R150k.

Do buyers have a preference between solar panels and batteries? For some people solar panels are off-putting visually and due to maintenance requirements.

Giel: “This depends on long or short-term, shorter-term people are looking at inverters and battery systems with the option to upgrade to Solar. Visually I do not think its such an issue – people prefer having power over views of their roof”.

Rory: “The growing preference is for solar power systems, and we are not seeing any resistance due aesthetic reasons. There is more resistance to the expense of going completely off grid with solar, and many homeowners are opting for more affordable inverters and rechargeable batteries instead. However, rent-to-buy solar installations are gaining ground as loadshedding gets worse and the banks all now offer financing for finance for solar installations too.

Meanwhile, water storage/ backup tanks are becoming a big thing too, because loadshedding also affects reliability of the water supply, especially in high-lying areas. But generators are falling more and more out of favour due to the expense of the fuel or LPG required to run them as well as the associated noise and fumes.”

Vaughn: “There is no resistance to solar among our buyers. In fact, if there is only an inverter in place, most will ask if solar is an option and can be added.”

John: “Prospective buyers are not often looking for homes that already have power backup systems, but they are actively seeking out those estates where the homeowner’s association (HOA) rules specifically allow them to retrofit those systems or include them in new home builds.

This is definitely not the case in all estates, here or elsewhere in the country, and is something for both buyers and HOAs to consider. Many will need to change strict architectural guidelines that would prevent homeowners from putting solar panels on their roofs, for example.”

The verdict: Buyers want some sort of power generation system, with most preferring a hybrid system of inverters and solar.

Are you finding that gated estates in your area are working on installing generators / solar panels and the like?

Rory: “In sectional title complexes, most buyers and tenants now expect there to be a backup system – usually a generator – to at least keep the security equipment working, as well as the lifts and lighting in communal areas. Many individual owners and landlords are also fitting inverters and batteries, while in new builds, more and more developers are looking at building-in complete solar systems from the outset that will power the whole complex.”

Sally: “In Cape Town many apartment blocks / sectional title complexes with lifts have installed generators but not many have put up solar systems as yet. They would need a massive system to supply a whole block.  In free-standing gated estates, individual homeowners are taking care of their own solar systems.”

Barbara: “Individual generators are of course not allowed in many complexes due to the noise and I think that if smaller complexes were to install enough solar panels to supply all the homes, they would definitely be more attractive to potential buyers.”

The verdict: Gated estates are investing in alternatives to Eskom, but this is generally restricted to communal areas and security measures.

Are buyers tending to focus on estates in the hopes of having more energy support in the form of communal solar panels etc, or do they still prefer energy wise freehold properties?

Rory: “In Johannesburg, greater security and personal safety is still the biggest consideration for buyers choosing complexes and estates over traditional suburban homes, but affordability is of course also a big factor. We don’t see buyers making a choice based solely on the basis of communal backup systems.

In the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, agents report that there is a definite preference for energy-wise freehold homes, whether these are located inside or outside an estate, as there is a general feeling that a solar system big enough to support a whole estate would be unsightly”.

Vaughn: “Buyers who are looking at estate homes are also definitely considering security and return on investments first, and then looking out for those which allow for properties to be made energy wise either by retrofitting or at the building stage”.

The verdict:  The choice to buy into an estate is still predominantly one of security, but within that framework energy efficient homes with alternative energy sources are in increasing demand.

What advice would you give sellers in terms of energy solutions?

Nick: “The most important advice for property owners and sellers is to choose good quality, proven equipment when creating a home power backup system. In addition, the installation, whether it is an inverter and batteries or a complete solar system, must only be done by a qualified, certified installer and not by just anyone. There are a lot of really fly-by-night operators climbing on to this bandwagon now, but homeowners need to know that if anything happens to their properties because of a fire, for example, or a lightning strike or a loadshedding-related power surge, they are likely to find that their insurance has been invalidated if an unqualified person has worked on their electrical system.”

Devin: “Our recommendation to buyers is that they budget to put in their own, new inverter and battery systems, because then they can be sure of the quality and guarantees on the equipment. In most cases this will only cost them a fraction of the purchase price and give them peace of mind that they have exactly what they need to deal with loadshedding. We do not recommend a full-on solar system in the great majority of cases, because this is a vastly more expensive solution and is really only for those determined to live completely off-grid.”

The verdict: Sellers are advised to only spend on installations by qualified, certified installers. On the other hand, buyers are urged to install their own energy solutions, should they be concerned about the quality of the work done on a property.

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