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Are semigrants returning to Cape Town?

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The trend of moving to Mother City, which slowed during the drought, is showing renewed signs of growth. By Bonnie Fourie

The green shoots sprouting in the country’s property markets have coincided with the arrival of spring, and there is a renewed desire for South Africans to keep their roots planted in their native ground.

Many, however, are seeking new beginnings in other parts of the country, which is signalling a re-emergence of the semigration trend, particularly to Cape Town. The city has shed most of the negative impacts of the recent drought, and as a result experts say there are early signs of increased national buying activity here.

There had been a slowing of this trend over the past year, with the most recent FNB property market analysis showing that only 7.8% of all sellers in South Africa were moving to another city or province.

But Mike Greeff, chief executive of Greeff Christie’s International Real Estate, says semigration to any major city tends to be cyclical and occurs more often towards the end of the year. This is as people try to start the new year in a new space, begin new jobs, or move closer to the schools their children will attend.

In addition, he does not believe the rate of semigration to the city has been “severely dampened”. “Cape Town remains an enticing semigration destination as it offers arguably the best all-round lifestyle in the country. The city boasts some of the best schools, industrial and tech hubs plus incomparable natural beauty.”

Although she does not have exact figures, Dawn Bloch, area specialist in Kirstenhof and Zwaanswyk for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty, agrees semigration to Cape Town is again gaining momentum.

“There seems to be another wave of buyers coming from Gauteng, and we are also seeing more buyers from KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. I think that now that the water crisis has been averted, the city is attracting more interest from upcountry buyers.” In the past few weeks especially, semigration to the city has certainly increased, says Richard Hardie, chief executive of Knight Frank SA.

This follows a complete halt in the trend during and after the drought. “It’s been a bit of a poor market and a buyer’s market, but with news releases saying the market has been turning, there are the green shoots. We are definitely seeing Joburg buyers back and forth, so I think that will be an upward trend as we head into the summer months.”

He says: “No matter what or where the economy is, I believe Cape Town is always a micro-climate and will always attract buyers.” In difficult economic times, people generally move to areas where they can be close to their work or business, says Brett Leon, managing director of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty.

They also move to be closer to family or medical institutions they may need. Semigrants to the Atlantic seaboard and city bowl generally fall into three categories, says Leon.

These are: 

  • Families looking to relocate, and therefore requiring homes with gardens, pools and space.
  • Corporate clients choosing to live in central Cape Town for proximity and exposure to the area’s amenities.
  • Young corporates and business people looking for the vibe and international appeal that Cape Town brings.

“The majority of people I talk to move to Cape Town either for work, work experience, or personal reasons such as relationships with family and friends,” says Leon.

While it appears the semigration of older, more affluent homeowners from across South Africa to the Western Cape has slowed, says Sandra Gordon, Pam Golding Properties’ senior research analyst, the trend continues to support local housing markets.

She says initially many newcomers opted to rent, but are now beginning to purchase homes as they settle permanently in the Western Cape. “As a result, the semigration trend still provides a solid underpinning of local housing markets, even as the influx of newcomers has slowed.”

Echoing this, Greeff says people will more often than not move to a new city and rent a property for a few months with the intention of experiencing traffic and neighbourhoods first-hand. “In this regard we can expect the rental market to experience an increase in activity.”

The peace of countryside living is calling many Capetonians

ADDED VALUE Stellenbosch is popular among Capetonians looking for a life outside the city.
Picture: Naeem Maye

Just as many South Africans look for their patch of green in Cape Town, many Capetonians seek theirs in other parts of the Western Cape. A decline in the affordability of homes, the rising cost of living and growing congestion in the province’s major metros has prompted homeowners to seek more affordable and relaxed lifestyles in towns and suburbs beyond the traditional metro growth nodes, says Pam Golding Properties’ Sandra Gordon.

Often these buyers have been purchasing homes in towns previously considered to be primarily holiday or retirement destinations. Although people have been moving to the countryside for some time, over the past two years a growing number has begun to cite this as their reason for selling, says Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty’s Dawn Bloch.

“In 2017, around 15% of my sellers were moving out of Cape Town, predominantly along the west and east coasts and the Winelands, and this number has been steadily rising, fuelled by those who are unable to emigrate and opt instead to move to smaller towns for a quieter, better quality of life.

“Many are also empty-nesters and retirees looking to scale down both their homes and lifestyles, families with young pre-school children and professionals who can work from home or want to open small businesses.”

For most, Bloch says the primary motivation for this move is a desire to escape traffic, crime and increasingly regular unrest in the city. “Popular towns for this new wave of semigrants include Langebaan, Yzerfontein, Caledon, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and Still Bay, all offering a tranquil lifestyle and an array of outdoor and leisure activities for nature lovers and sports enthusiasts.”

People want to be out of the hustle and bustle of the cities, agrees Greeff’s Mike Greeff. They are moving to estates just outside the main cities while businesses are moving out of the city centre to areas such as Century City.

“The move away from the traditional centralised business hubs is also reflective of current global trends that see people working remotely or travelling to their offices just once or twice a week.

“People are placing a greater emphasis on family life as well as quality of life rather than just the high-pressure city-based lifestyle.” While not many people leave Cape Town for other provinces, he says Knysna and Plettenberg Bay are always a popular choice for those retiring and moving out of Cape Town. 

There has also been a lot of interest from Capetonians seeking a more rural environment such as the Winelands, says Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty’s Chris Cilliers. “Stellenbosch, Somerset West and Paarl are popular, and Wellington has also been an attractive option.”

In addition to a trend towards Riebeeck Kasteel, Stanford and Greyton, Knight Frank’s Richard Hardie says Hermanus is popular. “There are many gated communities, it has the ocean, a real sense of community, plus some good shopping malls.”

Good schools are important drivers for popularity of an area 

ROOM FOR ALL Homes which allow for dual living are sought-after as extended families
semigrate to Cape Town. Picture: Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty

Most property buyers moving to Cape Town are from Joburg and a few from Pretoria, says Knight Frank’s Richard Hardie. These semigrants are a mix of singles and families. In many cases the breadwinners continue working in Joburg while the rest of the family lives in Cape Town.

“These people buy their investment properties here with a view to perhaps live in Cape Town in the future. Cape Town has become quite a hotspot for a number of reasons.”

Hardie says the city bowl is popular thanks to schools such as Herzlia, St Cyprians and the German International School, as are places further afield such as Somerset West. The southern suburbs of Bishopscourt, Constantia, Rondebosch, and Tokai are also popular because of good schools.

Semigrants to Cape Town from places such as the northern suburbs of Joburg want to live in property types they are accustomed to, says Greeff’s Mike Greeff.

This is especially applicable to families with school-going children or extended families. Generally, most buyers are looking for homes in the suburbs, close to good schools, amenities and lifestyle offerings. Greeff says location and commute time are key factors for single people moving for work purposes.

There is also demand for luxury properties in Constantia and Zwaanswyk, Newlands and Claremont, which are near to good schools and UCT, says Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty’s Dawn Block. Mid-priced properties in the southern suburbs are popular.

“Homes which allow for dual living are also sought after as whole families, including grandparents and staff, are moving to Cape Town.” Chris Cilliers, chief executive and principal for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International in the Winelands, says semigrants to the area are mostly young families seeking good schools.

“Generally our buyers come from Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, and we have begun fielding inquiries from the Free State. “These buyers love Paarl and Stellenbosch due to the excellent schools and the potential for the university later.”

City life costly: Rural cheaper

QUIETER Some people are inclined to migrate to smaller towns during tough economic times. Picture: Supplied

In tough economic times people may be more inclined to move from city life towards simpler – and more affordable – lifestyles. One of the end goals is to be free of debt, says Mike Greeff of Greeff Christies International Real Estate. “There is greater value for money on offer in smaller towns.

You can sell for an amount in the city, buy a home of the same size and condition in one of the smaller towns and still be able put some money in your bank account.

“Smaller towns are also becoming more ‘first-world’ with better access to amenities.” He says technology plays a pivotal role in the way goods and services are delivered to residents of smaller towns.

“The appeal of good work-life balance is always a driving factor, as is the thought of belonging to a community.” Echoing this, Chris Cilliers of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty says those who can work remotely often leave the cities for more rural areas during tough times.

“Generally they like a travelling distance of around an hour from a major city. There has, however, been some movement to the Garden Route, which has great access to George airport, meaning that a short flight delivers you to Cape Town or Joburg.”

However, Dawn Bloch of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty, says people are more likely to gravitate towards cities in search of employment/ greater business opportunities during weak economic times. She believes the wave of people leaving for the countryside is more lifestyle related, where peace and tranquillity away from the hustle and bustle of city life is desired.

“This is especially true for retirees, emptynesters and people who can work from home remotely.” Richard Hardie of Knight Frank SA also does not believe people are more inclined to move out of cities during tough economic periods. “I think people are more inclined to spend less and make their life simpler, but to do this where they are at.” 

More residents drive development 

BUILDING Increased migration to smaller towns leads to more residential and commercial development. Picture: Supplied

The influx of new residents to quiet rural towns and country areas has prompted a spate of developments, says Pam Golding Properties’ Sandra Gordon.

“In Somerset West, for example, numerous housing estates have been developed on the periphery of the town, while in the heart of Stellenbosch a number of developments is currently underway to provide additional student accommodation.”

The influx, she says, is also prompting the development of more retail outlets, private schools and medical facilities in towns across the region, ultimately further contributing to the appeal of these towns to newcomers looking to become permanent residents.

Johan Truter, area specialist and office manager for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Yzerfontein, says there has been a notable increase in inquires from Cape Town and Joburg buyers who yearn for the simplicity of West Coast life, and the once tiny permanent population has swelled to around 2 000.

This significant growth in the residential sector has spurred commercial growth, with the latest development being a shopping centre. The anchor tenant, Spar, is now occupying a space double the size of the original store, Truter says.

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