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Rural living trend boosts markets

26 Aug 2008
Tired of living with crime, grime and traffic, South Africans are increasingly looking at the smaller, rural towns as a permanent residential option. And there are many valid reasons for them to do so.

So says Mike Bester, CEO of Realty 1 International Property Group, whose regional offices are now regularly reporting stronger activity in the outlying areas.

"Not only is crime far less prevalent in the smaller centres," said Bester, "but people moving to rural areas enjoy a less stressful lifestyle, wonderful scenery and greater personal freedoms than they do in the towns."

Realty 1's Overberg office recently reported a spate of sales of new development units in the towns of Struisbaai and Bredasdorp. Principal agent Strepies van Wyk believes that "clients who buy here are not only buying a house on the 'platteland', they are buying a lifestyle. There isn't the same traffic stress or difficulty finding parking, and people still stop to greet each other. The price you pay for property in this area is nothing compared with the 'feel-good' benefits of living here."

A similar trend is emerging in Jeffreys Bay, with a clear shift over the past year or two towards permanent residence rather than the former holiday home ownership. Traditionally a playground of the wealthy with many foreign property owners, Jeffreys Bay has started to draw local CEOs and young retirees searching for a break from city and suburban living.

"In some provinces the activities of Eskom and the mines are helping to drive the trend," says Bester. "The town of Zeerust in the North West province has reported an active property market characterized by first time buyers as well as investors, attracted by home prices that are considerably lower than the national average." Bester says recent reports of mining interest in the region has boosted the market, as they have in areas such as White River and the Limpopo towns of Burgersfort and Ohrigstad.

In Grabouw in the Western Cape, the steady revival of apple farming over the past decade has made the town a drawcard, and with the increased size of the community comes business opportunities such as banks, stores and restaurants – all of which in turn help to draw more residents. The Elgin Valley Wine Guild is in the process of creating a wine route through the valley and more wine cellars are opening their doors over weekends, making the town a tourist mecca and boosting interest in accommodation establishments.

"With today's technology, working online and running a virtual business is commonplace," says Bester, "and the ability to 'telecommute' makes it possible for people to live where they wish and still be actively and gainfully employed."

This theory is borne out by current events in the telecommunications field. "The demand for high-speed internet and VPN access services is growing daily," says Tim Lowry, managing director of MTN SA, announcing the company's decision to build a national fibre-optic backbone network following a successful two-month pilot project during which fibre-optic cables were laid between the Johannesburg suburbs of Sandton, Illovo and Rosebank.

And the lifestyle is a bonus, says Bester. "The fact that in the smaller towns people know each other by first names means greater community spirit. It's a more positive way of life for children to grow up in."

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