This paper develops the proposition that the characteristic of the South African built environment can largely be explained by the economic and social institutional framework that continues to characterise this market. The proposition is developed within the context of the Institutional Economics literature, and demonstrates the relevance of this theoretical framework in explaining the present and future trajectory of the South African built environment – the construction and property sectors. While recent public and private sector policies and interventions, have attempted to alter the players, in the South African economy, there is growing evidence, and concern, that a significant institutional “lock in” continues to perpetuate historical market outcomes. There is also a growing realisation that government intervention may not have been successful in changing the institutional framework and structure of the South African built environment. This suggests that when strong institutional “lock in” exists, public sector interventions that attempt to alter market institutional arrangements should target different echelons of the institutional hierarchy.