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Changing lifestyle demands reflected in new residential developments

MAIN IMAGE: Grant Smee, property entrepreneur and managing director of Only Realty

Grant Smee

If it’s beginning to feel as if there’s suddenly an influx of new residential property developments popping up everywhere you look, you’re not alone. FNB’s Property Barometer reported that six in ten residential properties constructed in South Africa in the first quarter of 2019 were apartments and townhouses, a trend that has continued in 2021 with this category accounting for a 58.2% share of total building plans passed in the first quarter.

“The sector is fiercely competitive, with major developers like Balwin Properties and Rawson Developers capitalising on the increasingly urbanised population and need for increased housing in the country’s major metropolitans,” says property entrepreneur and managing director of Only Realty, Grant Smee.

“However, this rapid uptick in new residential developments is also a reflection of the changing lifestyle requirements of consumers, who are primarily seeking convenience, security and access to amenities.”

With an oversupply of residential development options consumers are spoiled for choice, which has led to developers looking for ways to distinguish themselves in order to attract new residents. “Developers are no longer trying to sell homes – they’re selling a certain kind of lifestyle,” explains Smee.

He suggests that there are seven factors that distinguish game-changing developments from their counterparts:

  • convenience
  • community
  • safety
  • urban renewal
  • sustainability
  • technology

Convenience and community as the primary motivators

“Because last year’s national lockdown proved the viability of remote work, developers can no longer rely on proximity to the office as the primary benefit to living in a certain development, as was often the case in major cities such as Johannesburg,” says Smee.

“Instead, developers are focusing on a community-orientated lifestyle and access to sought-after amenities.” Smee singles out ‘One on Whiteley’, located in Melrose Arch, ‘Menlyn Maine’ in Pretoria and ‘Harbour Arch’ in the Cape Town CBD as three developments that have shaped their marketing strategies around the benefits of a mixed-use precinct.

This means that each apartment building is near popular restaurants, high-end retail and office blocks. “This ties into the millennial consumer’s huge emphasis on convenience, as you can work, eat, exercise, shop and live all in one area,” adds Smee.

Cape Town’s Century City development was an early adaptor of the mixed-use strategy, with construction beginning on this previously unused ‘wasteland’ next to the N1 highway in 1997. The developers rezoned the land from residential to mixed use, and while growth was initially slow, the development became wildly successful as many major corporates relocated to the area and with the expansion of Canal Walk shopping centre. “Today Century City contains a total of 14 residential developments and the development is worth more than 20 billion rand,” says Smee.


Focusing on the community aspect of residential developments is another effective tactic that developers can employ to help them stand out. The new mixed-income, mixed-use development Conradie Park in Pinelands (developed in partnership with the Western Cape Government) hopes to appeal to prospective buyers by offering among other amenities, a doggy-day care, town square and community centre and a number of parks, including a 22,000m2 park for Park Runs.

“The idea behind many of these game-changing developments is that once you move in, you’ll never have to leave the comfort and community of the development because everything you need is one place,” explains Smee.

Urban renewal

The uptick in new residential developments has also led to new opportunities for inner-city regeneration in previously neglected areas.

Durban’s recently completed Point Waterfront development is, in Smee’s opinion, “the city’s first, and best, example of the potentials of urban renewal as they were successfully able to convert industrial buildings into futuristic skyscrapers and transform the run-down area right next to the harbour into a tourist hotspot.”

The developers behind Harbour Arch have similar hopes that the development will transform Cape Town’s foreshore from “a wasteland of missed opportunity” to a world-class CBD.

While Smee’s years of experience have shown him that this kind of transformation is possible, he urges developers to be mindful of their surroundings. “Ensuring the safety and security of your residents is a must, as a neglected area’s security will not improve overnight.”

Smart design

While consumers prize the convenience and proximity to amenities of centrally located residential developments, the trade-off for this convenience is often smaller unit sizes and higher costs than those found in less central developments.

“High costs and smaller units, particularly in the CBD, means that developers need to be creative in how they attract residents. Emphasis is typically placed on high-end finishes, community living benefits such as a rooftop braai, pool or gym and smart design,” says Smee.

Consumers are often willing to overlook bigger rooms in favour of state-of-the art appliances, lots of natural lighting, modern design and fast internet. “An increasing number of developers are harnessing technology to help their developments stand out from other options, whether that’s installing fibre, placing Smart TVs in every unit or having a dedicated app for the development to arrange deliveries or pay for rates and levies.”

A final factor that distinguishes game-changing developments from their competitors is emphasising sustainability and environmental concerns throughout the building process as well as in day-to-day operations. “Consumers are increasingly concerned about their impact on the planet, as well as the potential to keep costs down by employing renewable energy sources,” concludes Smee.

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