"Super commuters" earn good salaries in big cities while their families live safely away from the hustle and bustle
Long commutes have become an unfortunate reality for many South Africans fed up with increasing traffic congestion and rising fuel prices. But when the commute involves air travel to an office in another city, the journey is often part of a lifestyle choice.
An increasing number of South African executives and professionals are becoming “super commuters” who travel weekly between their jobs in the city and their homes at the coast or in the countryside, or between the city where they live and the city where they work, says Berry Everitt, chief executive of the Chas Everitt International property group.
For many, the rationale for this lifestyle is to ensure that while they are working, their families live in a safer and less stressful environment – often a gated estate with its own school and sporting and recreational facilities.
“They will generally leave home on a Sunday night or early Monday and return on a Thursday or Friday, depending on their employers.” Although it is difficult to determine just how popular the “super commuting” trend is, says Donné Jacobs, a Greeff area specialist in Somerset West, it is growing.
“More families are moving to the Cape for the lifestyle and schooling prospects, while in most cases the husband does the weekly commute to Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.”
The Western Cape is also seeing a rise in super commuting among professionals working in the Port Elizabeth and Pretoria areas, says Cedric Le Bon, a Greeff senior broker in the CBD, Foreshore, De Waterkant and Green Point.
“A lot of families are planning their retirement and are looking to move their families to the Western Cape and commute from one province to another while they wind down their business interests over the years.” Jacobs says the super commuting trend ties in with semigration trends.
“Over the past five years we have seen a huge influx of families moving from Gauteng and from KwaZuluNatal.” While remote working makes it easier for people not to commute at all, says Chris Cilliers, chief executive and principal for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in the Winelands, it is still common for Cape Town residents to spend part of the week in Joburg for work.
“We are still seeing people moving from Gauteng in general to the Western Cape.” KwaZulu-Natal is also a popular option for super commuters, says Wakefield Real Estate chief executive Myles Wakefield.
With employment opportunities in that province on the decline – particularly in certain fields at senior levels – the super commuter trend will “show a gentle increase”.
“Our experience is that generally those who choose the province as their home base do not envisage the commuter lifestyle as being permanent. It’s a short to mid-term financial decision, with the end-vision being to find local employment, be transferred, start a business, or retire.
“Most super commuters do not relocate families from KwaZulu-Natal to Gauteng because they don’t see commuting as a forever plan. They prefer the more laidback KwaZulu-Natal lifestyle.”
South Africa’s super commuters don’t just work in the country, says Pieter Jordaan, Seeff licensee in George. “Some work in Africa and Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Qatar and settle their families in the Western Cape.”
The living may be good, but the homes are often smaller
South Africans looking for a better lifestyle while retaining their Gauteng salaries are downscaling homes when moving from Joburg to the coastal regions, says Grahame Diedricks of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty.
However, the homes they seek depend on family size and their stage of life. Most super commuters want properties in secure estates, says Philip Malan, a Greeff senior broker in the CBD, Foreshore, De Waterkant and Green Point. “These properties range anywhere from R3 million to R30m.”
Security is a major factor, especially if the family is going to be alone during the week, says Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty’s Chris Cilliers.
Generally these families are looking for a lifestyle they cannot enjoy in Gauteng. “Good schools and community support are also important, which is why many opt to live in lifestyle estates.”
The rise of this phenomenon has been a driver of demand in luxury estates at the coast and in the country, says Chas Everitt’s Berry Everitt. “Take the Kwa-Zulu-Natal North Coast, where proximity to King Shaka International Airport makes it easy to commute to Joburg. New private schools have been established and estates such as Mount Edgecombe, Zimbali, Simbithi and Brettenwood are flourishing.
“Also increasingly popular are the Mossel Bay Golf Estate and Pinnacle Point in Mossel Bay, which is within easy reach of Cape Town and the luxury estates around George, Sedgefield and Knysna along the Garden Route.”
Lew Geffen Sotheby’s Steve Neufield says super commuters generally prefer houses in gated estates priced between R3m and R10m. “Security is important and so are sea views and proximity to beaches.” Pam Golding Properties’ Ling Dobson says they have seen increased demand for smallholdings.
“We are also seeing a few people buying vacant land to build dream homes.” In Somerset West, many top estates and complexes offer a range of lifestyles and prices, generally upwards of R3.5m, says Dinis Martins of Seeff.
Wages better in Gauteng, but places like George offer a great lifestyle
While the earning potential offered by Joburg is generally higher than in most other metros, many do not believe it offers the same lifestyle appeal as Durban or Cape Town, says Grahame Diedricks, manager principal for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Midrand.
This is why more people are choosing alternative lifestyles and are willing to commute further and more often in order to have both the lifestyle they want as well as retain the income the major metros offer.
“Cape Town is a popular destination for a primary residence due to the lifestyle it offers, especially for outdoor enthusiasts and we have seen a growing number of our clients commuting to Joburg for work,” Diedericks says.
Echoing this, the agency’s Chris Cilliers says: “Joburg is still the economic hub of South Africa and offers people many career opportunities as well as higher earning potential.”
Somerset West is a popular option for these super commuters as it offers easy access to Cape Town airport and good, affordable schooling, says Greeff’s Donné Jacobs. It also has business train and bus servicesthat travel to and from the Cape Town city centre on weekdays.
“This an attractive option for living in Somerset West without having to worry about peak hour traffic to town as well as hefty parking costs,” says Jacobs. Plettenberg Bay has also seen an increase in super commuters, says Steven Neufeld, manager principal for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in the area.
Most of these residents opt for homes in gated estates and work remotely as much as possible. When necessary they commute to Gauteng. Both Plettenberg Bay and George offer easy commutes for families seeking lifestyles away from bustling cities, agrees Ling Dobson, Pam Golding Properties area principal in Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.
“They are looking for security and access to a natural lifestyle, be it the beaches or the forests – running, cycling, swimming, golf, birding and all the other holistic and healthy sports.
“The most sought-after options include Thesen Islands, Simola and Pezula.” George is a popular alternative to Cape Town because it offers less congestion and a laid-back lifestyle, says Pieter Jordaan, licensee for Seeff George. It is slightly warmer in terms of the sea temperatures and the year-round temperate climate.
“Numbeo, an international online database of user-submitted information, rates George as the city with the best quality of life in South Africa, beating Knysna (second), Port Elizabeth (third), Cape Town (fourth) and Durban (fifth).” Hermanus is also sought-after among buyers from across the country, but especially the wealthy from Joburg and Pretoria, says Paul Kruger, licensee for Seeff Hermanus.
KZN Coast: Worth the commute
The super commuter trend has long been evident in KwaZulu-Natal, says Myles Wakefield, chief executive of Wakefields Real Estate.
The three main reasons for this are: “There are more employment opportunities in Gauteng than KZN; living on the KZN North Coast in particular… offers a faster commute time from KZN to the Joburg office, than from Joburg suburbs through dense traffic to the office and, importantly, it’s impossible to better the superb KZN lifestyle.”
For those who’ve settled their families in KZN, particularly in the coastal gated estates on the North Coast where there are excellent schools, the commute to Joburg allows them to fund a superior standard of living and to enjoy quality family and leisure time at the weekend. “In addition – comparing apples to apples – Kwazulu-Natal property is more affordable than that in Gauteng.”
Downsides: But good lifestyle
The lifestyle might sound perfect but there are disadvantages to being a super commuter, especially if you have a family. “These include the cost of paying for two homes and the probability of missing out on many family birthdays, school events and other important occasions,” says Chas Everitt’s Berry Everitt.
“Meanwhile, the stay-at-home parent will generally have all the responsibility for running the household.” However, most super commuters say it is worth putting up with these drawbacks for the peace of mind that comes with knowing their family is safe in a secure estate and for the superior lifestyle they get to enjoy on weekends.
Everitt adds those who commute between two cities on a weekly basis choose to do so to avoid uprooting their families from their schools and familiar environments.
“Besides, work assignments can change, so it is much easier to just keep commuting to wherever the best jobs are and maintain a solid home base.
Driving forces: Schools and security
While the super commuter trend is growing, Tyson Properties managing director Chris Tyson says it still accounts for a relatively small percentage of sales. Tyson says the northern coastal areas of KZN and Cape Town are the most popular with super commuters.
“The main driving forces are schools and security. ‘Cape Town is seen as safer than Gauteng and KZN has the benefit of wonderful gated estates with exceptional facilities such as golf courses, views and lifestyle.”
Tyson says business professionals look for gated estates or complexes close to airports in the cities where they are working. He adds: “We have seen a surge in property prices and popularity in Johannesburg near Gautrain stations, due to the easy commute this provides to airports.”