Buying a historic home in South Africa

21 Sep 2012

For people who love the style and atmosphere of heritage properties dating back decades or even centuries, the investment in such homes is forever treassured.

Pam Golding Properties sold a historic home in Courtrai, Paarl for R8.25 million. Dating back to the early 1900’s the property underwent extensive renovations which transformed it into a substantial modern family home with five bedrooms, a gourmet kitchen and separate guest cottage.

Whether bought already fully-renovated or still in need of some love and attention, the romance and emotional pull of an older home holds enormous appeal to this category of buyer, says Annien Borg, Pam Golding Properties (PGP) managing director for the Boland and Overberg regions.

However, she says buyers have to take note that the historic pedigree or even national monument status does not necessarily add significantly to the price of a property.

 “A well-maintained, fully-renovated historic property may well command a premium price, but the value may actually lie more in the location of the property and its size, than in its historic significance.”

Many of these homes were built in prime central locations, or close to attractive natural features such as rivers and mountain backdrops, and many of them still occupy significantly larger properties and have far larger rooms than the average modern home. 

It is this more than any intrinsic heritage value which may push up the price. 

In fact, in some cases the age of the home may count against it – particularly those properties which have not been particularly well maintained, or where previous renovations have been carried out without sensitivity to the integrity of the building style, she explains.

In these cases the asking price may actually need to be lower than for an equivalent modern home, to allow for the money which the buyers will have to spend on restoring the property to its former glory.

Jonathan Davies, PGP joint area manager for the Hyde Park office in Johannesburg describes heritage homes as old homes that are considered of historical importance and the community consequently seeks to protect them. 

This Cape Dutch homestead dating back to 1841 has been extensively renovated for modern living and is selling for R7 million through Pam Golding Properties.

Homes that are 60 years and older are protected by law and a permit needs to be obtained if they are to be renovated or refurbished.

He says the original mining town of Johannesburg first came into being a little more than 125 years ago and the city is today home to some fine heritage homes.

These are generally found in the older, more established residential areas of the city such as Houghton, Parktown, Saxonwold and Westcliff and they are considered valuable because of their historical and architectural significance. 

Some individuals made their fortunes on the Rand following the discovery of gold in 1886 and went on to build homes in suburbs such as Parktown and eventually Houghton, Saxonwold and Westcliff. 

From the early 1900s, a number of these ‘Rand Lords’, as they were known, began to move into the Westcliff area building their homes in the old English style from the local stone extracted from the ridge.

They wanted grand homes that were uniquely designed to suit their more affluent lifestyles.

As a result, some of the leading architects of the period, such as Herbert Baker and Frank Flemming, were brought in to help design these homes.

He says the influences of these architects are still evident in many grand old homes around the older parts of Johannesburg.

Flemming and Baker worked together on a number of projects including St John’s College in Johannesburg, he explains.

A three bedroom Victorian cottage in Stanford is selling for R1.35 million. The home has been carefully restored and still boasts original features such as wooden floors and beams.

PGP Karoo manager Wayne Rubidge explains that the Karoo region spans all three Cape Provinces and stretches into the Southern Orange Free State.

He says quaint towns in this region steeped in history and dating back to the 18th century offer uniquely designed historical homes at competitive prices.

Buyers can snap-up bargains priced below R500k and luxury homes priced over R2 million.

“This has created a viable opportunity for first-time homeowners as well as families and others looking for an alternative to coastal living.”

Buying a historical property is hard work – buyers need to get good advice regarding restorations, best methods to refurbish and most importantly, the costs associated with restorations.

Rubidge says experience has shown that older historic homes bought for a good price and restored with care have sound-on sale value as many investors do not have the time or inclination to do the restoration themselves, but they are interested in buying these homes.

Rubidge points to the unique architecture of all Karoo’s towns as having provided the stimulus for the economic revival.

Whether Karoo Vernacular architecture, Victorian homes, art decor beauties, modern marvels or just the simple yet beautiful Karoo cottage, all styles take on a new reflection in the spatial context of the Karoo.

The historic seaside mansion Rodwell House which overlooks the St James beachfront on False Bay is selling for R23 million.

According to Davies, heritage properties differ in size, design and condition and therefore vary considerably in price.

Certain buyers seek out these homes because they want to own a piece of South African history while others buy them more for their position and address.

Davies says grand old classic homes in upmarket suburbs including Westcliff tend to fetch high prices.

“However, as in the case of all residential property, a home is only as valuable in monetary terms as someone is prepared to pay for it.

“Classic homes may be considered to fall into a niche market and are purchased by those who find value in the history and design of these properties,” he says.

Heritage homes form a particular niche in the Johannesburg property market, as such they are usually bought as primary residence as opposed to an investment property, he says.

Rubidge says there are many reasons why buyers continue to invest in historical homes.

Firstly, historical homes have much character and are often constructed with materials that are irreplaceable or are not available any more.

Examples of this are the use of Knysna Yellowwood for floors, ceilings and beams.

The abundant use of Oregon Pine for doors, windows, ceilings etc, which is no longer available and is a beautiful wood and more appealing than South African pine which is often used today and readily available.

Many of the fittings of these homes hail from the 40's and 50's and have beautiful art deco trimmings and fittings such as lampshades, light switches for example.

This home in Wellington originally built in the 1940’s has been completely restored over a five year period and is selling for R2.75 million. It has a remote-controlled alarm system which can lock down the house at the touch of a button, in the event of an emergency.

He says these homes form part of South Africa's national heritage and in the current times many buyers are looking for added meaning to their investments and these provide a great alternative to the plethora of modern and often uninspiring modern styles.

Most of these older homes are situated in the old central districts and neighbourhood and the current trend of inner city rejuvenation has spilled over to the platteland where these older homes are found in what are becoming known as great locations, he explains.

“Many buyers bought older homes due to their affordability.”

As an example, Borg says a refurbished historic home dating back to the 1900s in the popular suburb of Courtrai in Paarl was sold for R8.25 million in June.

Bought in 2003 for R2.16 million, the property was extensively renovated by its new owners, transforming it into a substantial modern family home with five bedrooms, a gourmet kitchen and separate guest cottage, as well as extensive indoor and outdoor entertainment spaces with excellent flow between them.  

A refurbished Cape Dutch home in the prime location of Constantia Street, close to the Grand Roche Hotel is currently on the market for R7 million.

PGP says the property was originally part of the farm “De Nieuwe Plantatie”, but was sub-divided in 1830.

 Its homestead, known as “De Kleine Konstantie”, was built in 1841 and occupies an erf of just over 3 100 square metres. 

The agency sold the property in April 2010 to local residents who then carried out an extensive refurbishment, with the assistance of architect Johan Malherbe of Malherbe Rust. 

The end result is a four bedroom family home, offering a farm lifestyle and breathtaking views of the Drakenstein Mountains.

The picturesque village of Stanford, located in the Cape Overberg some 15 minutes inland from Hermanus, continues to attract young family and semi-retired buyers.

PGP reports that the well-preserved Victorian village was declared a conservation area in 1995, meaning that its unique character is protected from unchecked development.

Located in Middelburg in the Karoo, the Old Mill is a four to five bedroom historical home in need of TLC and is selling for R750 000 In the reception area the flooring is large stone that came from the church that collapsed many years ago – it also has a door that belonged to the old prison.

Local agent Jill Smith points to the laid-back lifestyle, friendly village atmosphere and low crime rate as key factors in buying property in the area.

Young family buyers are aged between 30 and 40 while retirees are between 50 to 65 years old.

Cottages in Stanford are priced between R950k and R1.5 million, larger homes are priced from R1.8 million and R3.5 million and up to R5 million for riverfront properties.

Buyers are also attracted to St James homes - the beach is said to be one of the safest for swimming along the whole False Bay coastline, famous for its tidal pool and brightly-coloured beach huts, according to PGP.

Homes in the village are sandwiched between sea and mountain - a scenic and sheltered position offering spectacular views, beautiful sunsets and even whale-watching from the comfort of one’s own front veranda. 

PGP area manager for the South Peninsula, Sandi Gildenhuys says a historic home currently selling for R23 million is Rodwell House - a Mediterranean-style residence, currently operating as a boutique hotel, but would be equally well-suited as a luxurious private residence for a large family or those who entertain frequently.

It occupies close to 2 800 square metres and the home was built by James Benjamin Taylor, a key figure in South Africa’s early mining era. 

Lucky Jim Taylor, as he was known, made his fortune in diamonds and gold in the late 19th century and became a confidant of then-president Paul Kruger, acting as intermediary between the government and the mining industry. 

Having left the country prior to the Anglo-Boer War, Taylor returned to the Cape after World War One and oversaw the construction of Rodwell House in the 1930’s. 

Influential guests over the years included key movers and shakers in both politics and economics, among them former deputy Prime Minister Deneys Reitz, who spent many afternoons fishing with Taylor in False Bay.

It was converted into a boutique hotel in 2005 and still has original features including period fireplaces and a teak staircase. 

This Karoo farm style living home is priced at R1.280 million. It has three bedrooms on stand measuring 4 461 square metres.

Over 1 600 square metres of living space includes nine luxurious bedroom suites, most with their own private balconies.

Tourism and historic homes are reportedly driving the property market in the town of Wellington in Boland.

Borg notes that to date, nearly 30 homes have been sold so far and that’s almost the same number of homes sold by PGP during 2010.

Wellington is peppered with award-winning wine farms, scenic wedding venues, fine dining restaurants and challenging mountain-bike trails, all of which are drawing a steady stream of visitors, particularly over weekends and holidays. 

PGP area manager Surina du Toit says a market segment enjoying steady growth is that comprising creative individuals and DIY enthusiasts, who are buying up some of the town’s older properties and giving them a new lease on life.

“Wellington was proclaimed as a town in 1840 and has a number of historic homes dating back to the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century.”

Some of these have already been substantially refurbished and re-sold, particularly for use in the hospitality industry. With their large grounds and multiple rooms, they also make excellent homes for families, she explains.

One such property currently on the market is a home in Malan Street - a central location not far from the main thoroughfare of Church Street. 

Built in the 1940’s, the home was originally bought for the princely sum of £40. 

Its current owners bought the property in 2002, and spent five years undertaking a complete restoration of the property and the 692 square metre three bedroom property is now on the market for R2.75 million.

Du Toit says the restoration showed great respect for the home’s original features, while at the same time converting it into a home ideal for modern living. 

Original features such as wooden floors and inner doors were maintained and restored, as well as the original plaster ceilings in some rooms, and the hand-made iron burglar bars and railings. 

In addition, the owners sought out new design pieces to complement the home, such as a series of chandeliers which they purchased during their overseas travels resulting in a   blend of olden day charm and modern convenience.

To conserve water, the garden has a central irrigation system linked to a rainwater storage system and the property has a remote-controlled alarm system which can lock down the house at the touch of a button, in the event of an emergency. – Denise Mhlanga

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