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Semigration and WFH boosts sales of rural property

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The remote working trend that is encouraging relocation to small towns and semigration is also increasing the appeal of farm-style living – so much so that demand for lifestyle and small farms is outweighing supply.

Prospective buyers of game farms, however, might have more luck as a number of these properties have come on to the market. With the growth of remote working, says Basil Riddle, commercial broker and residential sales agent for Rawson Properties in George, many people with the means and desire for a lifestyle change are looking at moving away from big cities and towards farm-style living.

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All they need is a stable wi-fi connection to continue working. At the same time, they often find themselves more off the grid and self-reliant than they were in urban areas. “The most popular requests are for smallholdings where these individuals can farm cash crops, fruit, self-sustainable crops and veggies. This can also be a source of income that complements their current income.

“As an added bonus, these people are improving their health and lifestyle by living a more natural and sustainable life. People want to get closer to nature, creating a holistic lifestyle for themselves.”

Buyers of agricultural properties, he says, are higher-income households typically in the 35-to45 age group. They are often entrepreneurs. The type of properties they look for depends on their needs.

“I’ve come across a few people who are wanting to explore new types of crops that are in demand globally, like avocado pears, macadamia nuts and saffron.” Riddle warns, however, that buyers need to consider the property’s water supply as this resource is becoming scarce.

“This means agricultural land with a sustainable water supply, such as boreholes, cement dams and lakes, will be in demand.” He says sellers of these properties are either consolidating their debt, downscaling or retiring.

For some retirees, the land becomes too much to keep up and maintain and others want to move closer to their grandchildren.

There is interest in agricultural properties from international buyers, says Chris Cilliers, chief executive and co-principal for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in the Winelands. These buyers are particularly looking at wine and export-fruit farms. There are also buyers from farming areas such as Limpopo.

Properties currently on the market include commercial farms. “Another factor affecting this market and industry is the fact that many of the wine farms are family-owned, often for generations, and their continuity is threatened because the younger generation is increasingly less inclined to farm or they have emigrated.”

The agency is also receiving inquiries for evaluations from owners of lifestyle farms and smallholdings, with buyers of lifestyle farms mainly from Cape Town and Gauteng, she says. While Clarence and Odette Collins, Pam Golding Properties agriculture and commercial agents in Stellenbosch, are not seeing out-of the-ordinary numbers of agricultural properties coming on to the market, those that are being sold are usually on the market because of retirement, downscaling and relocation.

Lifestyle farms, in particular, are being sold by retirees and owners who want to downscale. Buyers are evenly spread between local and international, they say. In the Eastern Cape, more game farms than usual are up for sale, says Gregg Rippon, Pam Golding Properties agent in Makhanda.

This he attributes to the bursting of the breeding bubble and travel restrictions affecting the arrival of hunters in the country. In general though, the number of agricultural property buyers has dropped, and they are mostly South African – again due to travel and quarantine restrictions.

Rippon adds: “There are prospective tourism buyers waiting for the market to open up and also waiting for sellers to put their properties on the market for economic reasons.” Joff van Reenen, director and lead auctioneer at High Street Auctions, has noticed more trophy and commercial farms coming to market.

Trophy farms are being sold mostly because Covid travel restrictions mean they no longer have earning potential, while commercial farm sales are often a result of property and business consolidation or emigration.

“In the northern regions of the country there’s been a substantial spike in trophy properties, like game farms, coming to market. On the commercial side, across the country, we’ve dealt with few livestock farms in the past 18 months – the produce is mostly citrus and maize.”

Commercial farms with a good water supply, strong production and strong financials are being bought by other farmers. Trophy farms, however, are attracting interest from international buyers.

“A historical trophy wine farm we auctioned in the Stellenbosch region last month was sold to a European buyer and 50% of the responses we received on that auction were from international bidders on four continents.” Van Reenen notes too that international buyers are “snapping up” game lodges in the northern provinces because, with current exchange rates, “they’re the deal of the century”. “We’ve sold more of these, sight unseen, to international buyers in the past 18 months than in the past 11 years of business.

“In terms of commercial farms, demand is spread across the country. Although it is property dependent, the Western Cape remains extremely attractive to buyers.” Agricultural and commercial farms are still in high demand, says Ian Badenhorst, managing director for Seeff Country and Karoo. There is also often a shortage of stock.

“The Cape agricultural areas are diverse in that the type of farming differs greatly, hence the demand differs from area to area. Overall, though, there has not really been any increase in farms listed for sale.”

In Riversdale, Seeff agri-agent Willie Janse van Rensburg hasn’t seen an increase in agricultural farm listings. “On the contrary, we are struggling to get decent stock. There is high demand for self-sustaining farming and lifestyle properties.”

In addition to demand for commercial agricultural properties, he says, there is high demand for lifestyle and smaller farms where property owners can start their own small-scale farming operations. “These properties are often sought by business owners who can work remotely and semigrating buyers from inland provinces.”

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