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In search of the property grail

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Property editor laments the last five years of her roller coaster search to find a decent and affordable home to buy in Cape Town. By Vivian Warby

For the past five years I have been trying to property-shop in Cape Town – without much success I might add. Many of you are out there in the same vacuum.

Perhaps a reluctance to make up my mind, a dearth of suitable accommodation, indifference in the past by estate agents sated by the property bubble they said would never burst, just get bigger and bigger, sent me searching for a property grail, still out of reach? Probably, a farrago of the lot.

All I know is it could not have been at a worse time to begin that search. I was well aware of the evidence of a property boom enveloping me – it was not, as they love to say, a buyer’s market. Just look at some figures and suffer in silence with me.

For instance, a property bought in Camps Bay for R5 million in 2012 and done up for about another R1m, sold in 2016 for R36m – indeed a magic bubble. 

Then the angst to be almost blatantly informed by several estate agents – “If you don’t have cash don’t bother to come to the show house”. Cash was king and with the well-heeled snapping up apartments -– the Atlantic seaboard, the CBD and other Cape Town hot spots were certainly off limits to a first-time buyer with limited bond facilities.

Agents were too busy coining-it to be bothered to give too much time to the nervous or non-cash buyers. So I looked further afield. No luck. One agency boss who I’d persuaded, asked one of his younger staff to assist, but the youngster just laughed and said: “But boss we haven’t had a property in Vredehoek or close to the CBD for under R2m in years, let alone for R1m.”

Trends, developments, novelty housing – I scanned the property pages, asked friends and foes alike for direction. Must admit, I was truly excited about so-called micro units in Woodstock. But they were snapped up off-plan quickly and realistically 20m² for R750 000 near the CBD…

As in Japan, Hong Kong and places in Europe, Capetonians seemed happy to live in small spaces just to avoid nightmare traffic and the crawl commute to the workplace. Iconic Cape Town, a favoured holiday destination of the rich and famous, plus the euro, dollar and pound sterling-crammed tour trippers, saw them return home marvelling at the Cape’s glories, but lamenting the city with the worst traffic in South Africa.

So what next? Live, play, work combo developments mushroomed, as did secure estates. South Africans who could afford to, fenced themselves in; the more mature settled for rapidly sprouting retirement developments. Downsize my girl, you say? But that buzzword, when you already live in a home of small proportions, might raise the question how much more can one downsize?

Meanwhile, the battle for inclusionary and affordable housing spread throughout the city against a backdrop of developments inaccessible to “even the middle class”. Nationally, the housing problem grew. Oh dear. There was one area that blossomed.

The former township property market began its own re-incarnation, using the “build-on” factor and double-storey apartments appeared, catering to a growing rental group unable to afford Cape Town’s prices. It was boom time in eKasi.

And don’t forget the heritage-site full Bo Kaap. In the midst of a rampage of threatened development, residents there put up the fight of their lives to maintain their cultural identity… and won. There were also the Gautengers to Cape Town. These semigrants as they were named were also looking for a place to call home.

And all this while, against this furore, my search continued. Was I doomed to be a forever renter? On the plus side, the flat in which I lived was becoming comfortable … but at a price.

Its managing agents, who kept on putting up the rent made me realise soon I would no longer be able to afford its cost. And then, to my horror I began to contemplate old age – what was going to happen to me?

Perhaps a priest who had sat me down at my parents’ home years ago and queried why I did not have children had a point when he said “But Vivian who will look after you when you are old?”

My reply: “Father I will ask the church to care for me” was not met with much enthusiasm.

And then the sun began to glimmer off a horizon of despair. About a year ago I noticed a shift in the property market, suddenly properties popped up for a touch below R2m along, of all places, the Atlantic seaboard.

What did it mean? “It is not the bubble bursting, it’s just price correction,” an analyst laconically remarked. Moreover, my property’s managing agents reconsidered their ubiquitous 10% increase and slashed it – the market had to be in a torment.

Add to that, four apartments in my block have stood empty for four months now – no one, it seems wants to rent at the prices asked. Before that there was the 26m² apartment with zero view and no parking for R2.25m – now it’s on offer at R1.2m and still not selling.

They say it is now a real buyer’s market and that banks are keen to offer home loans. But the truth is, it is always a buyer’s market for the person with money in hand and so my quest continues. I am still hopeful though that property will be a good investment.

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