The various lockdowns and the ability to work remotely have meant an existing trend towards small-town living, and away from cities, has expanded during the pandemic.
The start of a new year often prompts deep introspection that sees people vowing to be happier, achieve their dreams, or appreciate life for the precious gift it is.
And if 2020 taught us anything, it is the value of family and life over material possessions.
So it comes as no surprise that more people are looking to escape the bustle of city life for the relative simplicity and tranquillity of small-town living. This trend has been growing over the years but appears to have been boosted by last year’s pandemic and lockdowns.
In the Western Cape, there are many small coastal and inland towns that have attracted city dwellers, particularly since the end of last year. Nikki Elliott of Country & Coastal Properties says most people had initially been seeking properties not too far from Cape Town but of late, with many able to work remotely, their searches have moved further afield.
Read the latest Property360 digital magazine below
“Many people want to get away from densely populated areas, and while some are not necessarily looking for permanent homes further afield, they are looking for country properties where they can either spend a fair amount of time or at least provide a weekend escape from the hustle and bustle.”
“Among those who have made a permanent lifestyle-changing move include young professionals with children, whom they wanting to home school, and retirees.”
Beatrix Joubert, broker/owner of Re/MAX Helderberg, reports that her offices in Somerset West and Strand have broken records since the hard lockdown ended.
“The Helderberg region has been attracting buyers not only from Cape Town but also from other provinces. Offering better-priced real estate compared to many parts of Cape Town, the area also has beautiful mountains, vineyards, great beaches, excellent schools, and a relatively lower crime rate.”
There is also a “constant flow” of interested buyers to Melkbosstrand, says Karen van Vuuren of Rawson Properties. They discover the delights of the area and start making inquiries about relocating there permanently.
“Those coming from Gauteng lived in properties that had top-of-the-range security, but here they do not need all these measures. Buyers from the Parklands area feel the same.”
More people are also investing in Boland towns like Paarl, says Lizette Joubert, franchisee for Rawson Properties in the area.
“I think people in cities and larger metros realise that their lifestyles have become very busy and, to an extent, impersonal. People still make time for each other in smaller towns. Another factor is that previously one would have had to drive to the cities to do certain types of shopping but over the years smaller towns have developed top-quality shopping centres and item-specific stores.”
Inquires from city dwellers wanting to move to Knysna and Sedgefield started in May 2020 when the country was still in hard lockdown, says Sheena Mare, broker principal for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in the area. Once the country moved to Level 3 in June, the numbers increased.
“Only once before in my 20-year career had I sold a property sight unseen, but last year I sold three properties to buyers who submitted offers without viewing the properties.”
She believes that the lockdown saw many people reassessing their lives and opting for less stressful lifestyles.
“And many people who had been working from home discovered that they didn’t have to be office-bound and so didn’t need to live near work anymore.”
This migration is also on the increase in both the Winelands and Langebaan, with Lew Geffen Sotheby’s Chris Cilliers, chief executive and co-principal of the Winelands branch, saying that the area offers idyllic country living within easy reach of the city, and “every amenity and facility one would need”.
The agency’s area specialist in Langebaan, Melanie Mouton-Creugnet, adds: “At the high end of the market you get much better value for money here than in the cities. I also think villages provide a better quality of family life as well as a less stressful environment with a lower crime rate.”
In KwaZulu-Natal, some south coast towns are also attracting city dwellers looking for a change, and the Amanzimtoti and Scottburgh areas are examples, says Erine Kleyn, franchisee for Rawson Properties.
“People are living stressful lives in this day and age and they are looking for peace and quiet – a place to relax at the weekends, whether in their gardens or at the beach.”
Jennifer Duncan, principal of Chas Everitt South Coast, which operates in Hibberdene, Port Shepstone, Margate and Southbroom, says inquiries for properties in these areas started increasing in April last year – the first month of lockdown. And once provincial borders opened there was “a rush” of people coming to view properties.
“There are a couple of reasons for this, including the rising number of people who are discovering that they can work remotely; people opting to retire early; and people fed up with the cold winters and high cost of living in Gauteng.”
There is also a strong migration of retirees seeking a better climate and more affordable living.
In inland KZN, the Southern Drakensberg’s Underberg area is a magnet for those looking to make big lifestyle changes, with Angela Walker, Pam Golding Properties area principal in area, reporting a definite increase in buyers from main metros and cities. This rise began soon after the first lockdown.
“People have realised that they miss wide open spaces and are now aware of how congested city life has become. There is also the short-term concern of further lockdowns in apartments or small city properties.”
Some people find that while they would love to make the move it is not that feasible from a work perspective unless they can work from anywhere, online.
Many though just want their children out of the city and in a better environment –and the lockdowns definitely had an impact on this.
“They love the views and being in a country environment. They are looking for peace and quiet, walks in the mountains, and friendly communities.”
Since last May the Nottingham Road area in the Midlands has also been seeing an increase in interested buyers, says Pam Golding agents Rob McKenzie and Ewen Cameron. These include young professionals and families who are selling houses in cities and buying smallholdings, farms, and into country developments.
“People want to get out of the cities and to keep their children away from shopping malls. They want space.”
The agency’s Sharon Spiers and Maureen Dix in Howick report that more retirees and families are moving to the area.