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What drives buyers to ‘zoom’ towns?

MAIN IMAGE: Adrian Goslett, regional manager and CEO RE/MAX of Southern Africa; Myles Wakefield, CEO Wakefields Real Estate; Krystal Kolnik, property consultant Jawitz Properties South Peninsula; Luvuyo Galo, national sales manager Xoliswa Tini Properties.

Developers are switching their plans midway through construction to change third bedrooms into at-home office spaces. How has the pandemic altered where people want to live and what they want in their homes?

On 5 March 2020 the Minister of Health made an official announcement of a local confirmed COVID-19 case in South Africa, of a 38-year old man from KwaZulu-Natal who had recently returned from a trip to Italy. One year later, having been through multiple lockdowns, our world has changed a lot. Not only have we learned to wear facemasks whenever we leave the house, carry sanitizer and keep a distance of at least 1.5m from strangers, but there has also been a shift in where people want to live and what they require of their dream home.

Small town living in vogue

Estate agents around the country have been noticing an increasing trend of buyers ditching city conveniences in favour of living in suburbs or towns (‘zoom towns’) in the countryside that have all the amenities and most important for remote work, reliable Wi Fi. Not surprisingly, coastal towns that tick these boxes are a firm favourite. Lightstone data shows that from January to October (most recent data) coastal house price inflation has averaged 3.15% compared to 2.59% for non-coastal. Mortgage firm Ooba last year reported a substantial YoY growth in bond applications for the period June to September as follows: KZN 37%, Eastern Cape 51% and Western Cape WC 62.5%.

According to Krystal Kolnik, property consultant at Jawitz Properties South Peninsula, she’s had numerous buyers say that lockdown has made them realise that they want a better lifestyle. “With countless people no longer needing to commute to work, they’re choosing to move from the city and Southern Suburbs to be closer to the beaches, have a garden and live a more chilled and relaxed lifestyle,” says Kolnik. “Lockdown actually gave us the opportunity to refocus on our listings and discuss price adjustments with our clients. A reduction of just R100,000, taking a property from R2,095m to R1,995m, can make a significant difference. The price change stimulated interest enormously and resulted in lots of enquiries. Buyers saw the value and the sale happened,” she adds.

Towns within an hour’s drive of the Mother City are also proving popular relocation spots. Wouter Joubert, franchisee at Rawson Properties Helderberg, says they’ve definitely seen an increase in buyers coming to the area from the main metropoles since the start of 2020. According to Joubert, around 90% of enquiries from city-dwellers – mostly young professionals and families – result in a move these days. The biggest draws include access to good schools, less traffic, established neighbourhoods and a sense of community, as well as more spacious plots and proximity to the beach.

“Safety is also an important consideration – we have less serious crime in our area than most major cities,” he says. Similarly, more inland towns such as Paarl and Malmesbury are also attracting former city-dwellers looking for a more rural lifestyle. Even favourite holiday destinations further away from Cape Town such as Betty’s Bay, Kleinmond and Hermanus are seeing many buyers who have always wanted to live there but thought it a retirement dream now making these ‘zoom’ towns their permanent place of residence. “As a result, we find more younger buyers, mainly families relocating here as access to schools is easier, as well as retirees. Generally, the major demand is for homes priced between R2 million and R3 million,” says Nicola Lloyd, Pam Golding area manager for Rooi Els, Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay and Kleinmond.

Why not work from home in your former holiday home? Aerial shot of Sandbaai, between Onrus and Hermanus in the Overberg. Photo: Pam Golding Properties

“Across the country there has also been an upsurge in the number of enquiries made by those who are searching to relocate to the coast now that they are able to work remotely, particularly within the areas such as Knysna, Plettenberg Bay & St. Francis Bay,” explains regional director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, Adrian Goslett.

The balmy north coast of KwaZulu-Natal has also seen growing interest from a broad section of buyers from all provinces, including Gauteng says Farrah Williamson, Pam Golding Properties area principal for the area.

The pandemic has, inadvertently, also played into the hands of those who could only afford a smaller home in a prominent suburb, says Myles Wakefield, CEO of Wakefields Real Estate in KZN. “Small town property is more affordable, so it’s possible to buy that bigger property with more space. Alternatively, some are choosing to buy smaller in a small town…and enjoy the peace of mind of being on a firmer financial footing,” he says.

Extra rooms, granny flats and schools

Prior to the pandemic the trend was to reduce room and playing space as long as the home was close to the workplace. The experience of being confined to a small home for months on end during the nationwide lockdown has led many to re-evaluate their living space. “Now, buyers want more rooms to work, live and play in,” says Luvuyo Galo, national sales manager Xoliswa Tini Properties.

The last decades’ trend has been for open plan homes, however the reality of two adults working from home and sharing the space with home-schooling children has quickly given greater appreciation for a spare bedroom or flatlet. According to Goslett, homes with their own enclosed study are in such high demand that many developers have even switched their plans mid-way through construction to change third bedrooms into at-home office spaces.

“It is unlikely that the situation is going to change any time soon. Homeowners who do have the budget should consider renovating or building onto their home to create an office space if they do not already have one. Not only will this help alleviate some of the tension and frustration in the short term, but it should also add great value to the home as a medium to long-term investment,” he recommends.

Property close to schools has always been in demand, but this is increasingly so, says Wakefield. It saves time, fuel, sitting in stressful traffic and more.

The pandemic came as a shock to many people. In the wake of so much uncertainty about the future, Galo says they are also seeing many property owners who are selling their investment properties to strengthen their financial stability. “Buoyed by a lower interest rate, this buyer’s market is good news because properties are coming onto the market at lower selling prices and homeowners have a better selection of properties from which to choose,” he ends.

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