As thousands of people flock to the Southern Cape for a better quality of life, the region’s property market is spinning out of control. Those wanting to live here are encouraged to get and stay in the market, buy for location and hold on for dear life.
More people than ever before want to live in the Western Cape. Increasingly considered a last resort before overseas options, the province has seen massive growth in the past decade. Those not wanting to be in the city choose the Southern Cape, where natural beauty, safe neighbourhoods, well-managed municipalities, good schools, excellent medical care and two airports contribute to the region’s popularity.
Stephen and Mariaan Lubbe have owned the Rawson Properties franchise in George since 2010 and have experienced a complete turnaround in the market. “The global economic crisis of 2008 had an enormous impact on the property market, especially in smaller economies such as the Garden Route. People in financial trouble flooded the market, having been forced to sell their homes for below market value,” says agency principal Mariaan.
“From 2013, sales started escalating, property prices rose to true market value and beyond, to now, when especially the middle class entry level property – a three bedroom, two bathroom house in a good neighbourhood – is becoming beyond the reach of the average income household with an entry tag price of between R1.3 million and R1.5 million. This market segment remains in highest demand and made up 20% of our sales last year, followed by the R2 million to R3 million range at about 11%.” Stephen says conservative municipal estimates indicate some 50 households moving into George each month. “The driving force behind these numbers is the city and region’s excellent reputation for being safe and well-managed. George has world-class infrastructure, a well-run municipality, a stable local political environment and a very low crime rate – all excellent reasons to want to raise a family or retire here.
Over 70% of Rawson’s business comprises buyers from out of town, 40% of which is in the retirement sector.
“The local market, driven by over-demand and undersupply, is not representative of most of the rest of the country and therefor relatively artificial. In turn, the need for rental properties has escalated and pushed rental rates sky-high. In the long term, buying a house instead of renting remains the best choice,” says Stephen.
Investing in retirement
Leading retirement housing developers Green Route Properties, the creators of the Groenkloof Retirement Villages, stepped into the gap in the early 2000s when managing director Jan Pienaar relocated from the Free State to Great Brak River. “I met countless people who had retired to their holiday homes, only to find it not suitable for their needs: often built with a scenic view and summer conditions in mind, holiday houses can be cold and wet, don’t have the necessary security, and care and medical facilities are too far away,” says Jan.
Today, six Groenkloof retirement villages provide financially accessible housing for the 50+ age group in George, Great Brak River and Reebok. “The Groenkloof model provides housing options for all the stages of retirement – from the active and social to the person needing living assistance or frail care. It offers peace of mind for retirees and their families that there will be someone looking out for their well-being – whether they live independently in a townhouse fitted with a panic button, a cosy and personalised assisted living flat or in the frail care centre.
“The Garden Route is a prime retirement destination. It is beautiful, safe and close to world-class medical facilities. The variety of Groenkloof property offerings, from large and small houses to flats, make it easier for people to scale down – their first buy into Groenkloof may often be from a large family home, and buyers are perhaps not yet prepared to move into a significantly smaller two-bedroom townhouse. As they grow used to the idea, they reconsider smaller options and see the benefit of simplifying.”
Other trends include the scramble for property in housing estates such as Kraaibosch and Welgelegen on the eastern edge of George.
Initially intended as middle-income housing when plots became available in the early 2000s, property sales inside Kraaibosch advanced from a trickle to a flood. The estate became a prime speculation building opportunity, which has paid off for several construction outfits and further pushed prices into the above-middle income bracket. Only a few undeveloped plots of the original 290 erven in Kraaibosch Country Estate remain. Plots in the more exclusive Kraaibosch Manor and Welgelegen developments continue to sell and develop rapidly.
Golf and lifestyle estates
Established in 1996, Goose Valley outside Plettenberg Bay was among the first residential golf estates on the Garden Route.
Goose Valley club manager Nici Hutchinson says her father Tim recognised the trend towards golf estates early on. He and two business partners bought the land on which the second nine holes of the Gary Player-designed 18-hole Goose Valley golf course would be built.
While apartments surround the first nine holes, he foresaw the need for freestanding homes and developed 60 stands on Turtle Creek and 13 on Fairway Close.
The development is a great success with a strong sales and rental base, and is especially popular with ‘swallows’, mainly British and German citizens, who spend their cold months in balmy South Africa. “South Africa offers people earning overseas currency an opportunity to maintain a much higher standard of living than they may have done in their home countries. With access to several world-class golf courses and secure living in beautiful natural surroundings, the Garden Route is an ideal property destination for those who love golf and the outdoors,” says Nici.
Ling Dobson, principal of Pam Golding Properties in Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, says the local market has spiralled upwards from a R71 million turnover when she bought the franchise in 2009 to over R200 million last year. The growth spike also shifted from Knysna to Plettenberg Bay. “Many people from elsewhere in the country and oversees are relocating their families here to enjoy a freer lifestyle. Good schools, safe living, and easy access to the Plettenberg Bay and George airports enable the breadwinner to commute to bigger cities during the week while the family is safe and happy.
While the Garden Route remains a strong second and third house property destination, both from an investment and holiday perspective, the lifestyle trend has resulted in a much less seasonal residency than in the past and fewer homes standing empty for the whole year except December.
While property in Plett has never been cheap, Ling says it is no longer accessible to middle to lower income brackets, with entry level three-bedroom houses starting at between R2,5 and R3 million. She is, however, talking to developers in an attempt to bridge the gap, but high building costs have so far made it impossible. “Plett is now a resort residential location, like the French and Italian Riviera, and yet, to those who can afford it, the town competes comfortably with, for instance, the Atlantic seaboard where properties of R49 million are commonplace and still much more expensive compared to an equal sized house in Plettenberg Bay. All things considered, the flight from Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay may be quicker than braving the traffic around Table Mountain.”
George-based Platinum Wave Properties specialises in the sale and rental of commercial and industrial property.
Principal Bryan de Beer says the non-residential property market has grown exponentially over the past two years, with very little to no quality selling and letting stock available. “The average rental space cost has increased from R20 to R30 per square metre in the town’s newer industrial areas. While this is expensive for locals, it still compares well with cities where rental can be more than double that,” says Bryan.
While vacant land is still available, high building costs make industrial development more risky. Other, more neglected commercial areas, such as properties along the train tracks, is starting to attract the attention of buyers, and should also ultimately become more desirable.
Bryan says the evidence of several premises in the George CBD standing empty is related to some landlords having recognised the demand and wanting rental far beyond the average small business’ capabilities.
“The business property market on the Garden Route, in general, is booming and is expected to do so for some time to come,” says Bryan.
Over the mountain
In the Klein-Karoo, the property market is also riding the wave with two major trends emerging: a growing commuting population who lives in Oudtshoorn and works in George, and Karoo breakaway second home buys by city-dwellers. Chas Everitt Oudtshoorn co-owner Antoinette du Toit says the town has become a popular first home destination for people for whom George has become too expensive. “For the same price as a rental house in Blanco, a client of mine is now paying off a house in Oudtshoorn and covering his petrol money to commute.”
But here too, the entry market price of a quality house in town has increased from between R500 000 and R600 000 to R800 000 and R1.1 million. Despite this, a growing client base is choosing the Klein-Karoo above coastal options because of good value for money, a drier climate and lower population density. “There are some gems that come along, houses that are closer to R500 000 and just need a little TLC. These are often ideal for first time home buyers and a good opportunity for them to get a foothold in the market.
“We encourage people to try buying instead of renting, but it can be difficult to secure a home loan as a first-time buyer with no deposit. If not successful at first, we urge prospective buyers to pay off debts and then reapply – they are often committed and successful once they realise it is not completely out of their reach,” says Antoinette.
Inquiries into smallholdings and farms continue to grow, with a significant increase in buyers from cities purchasing and restoring old farm and town houses for weekend getaways or lifestyle changes. “With Internet access almost everywhere, it is possible for people to run their businesses from anywhere.
“Owning property in the Southern Cape remains a good investment. Remember the basics: do your homework before you sell, stay in the market and buy for location: A small house in a good area is still better than a big house in a bad one.”