With the job market constantly evolving, an increasing number of people are working from home; this makes it far easier for professionals to relocate anywhere.
This is exactly what Leigh Andrews and her husband did four years ago; they were both working from home in their rented home in Gauteng when Andrews’ parents realised a lifelong dream of relocating to the Western Cape. The Andrews followed soon after.
“When my parents decided to make this dream a reality we decided to take the plunge with them and move to Cape Town,” explains Andrews. “My in-laws followed suit just a few months ago so this has been a good move all round.”
Andrews says that they rented for two years, saving up to buy and then were able to buy a home in the same area in which they were renting. “We were able to move to our own suitable place just a few weeks after moving down, having initially shacked up with my parents, and ended up living there happily for two years before we had saved up enough to buy,” she says.
It’s no secret that the Western Cape’s property market is significantly outperforming the rest of the country. FNB Property Barometer’s latest review of inter-provincial repeat buyer statistics shows that migration trends confirmed the Western Cape as the firm favourite for the country’s repeat home buyers, with 15.7% of the province’s repeat buyers coming from outside the province’s borders. The Western Cape also has the lowest percentage of repeat buyers leaving the province (7.6%).
Standard Bank consumer economist, Siphamandla Mkhwanazi, recently ranked Cape Town second in terms of popularity with first-time buyers, at the launch of the bank’s regional and provincial house price index. Based on volumes of transactions registered the city was outperformed only by Pretoria, where according to Mkhwanazi, young professionals, especially those working in the government sector, prefer to settle as travelling across Gauteng has been made relatively easy thanks to the burgeoning public transport infrastructure across the province’s main centres.
Based on the same dataset Cape Town is the most expensive city in which to buy in terms of the median price-to-income ratio – to buy a home in the city costs first-time buyers R9,067.31/m2. What’s more, the average age of first-time buyers has increased slightly to 44 years, suggesting that at least one of the reasons for this is that people are having to save a little longer before they are able to buy.
John Clifton, a 40-year old professional is a case in point. Clifton, an unmarried software engineer was renting a two-bedroom apartment in Northriding, Johannesburg, until February 2016 when he started looking for a home to buy in Cape Town. “My plan was always to move to Cape Town; most of my friends have relocated and I knew it would be easy for me to move my business,” explains Clifton. “I resisted buying in Joburg since I never intended to become a landlord and would rather save up to put down a significant deposit. When I finally had a 20% deposit for the price range I was looking at I started browsing online for suitable properties. In my opinion the relocation took much longer than it should have due to frustrations I experienced working with so-called professionals from across the country.”
While the “sample” of semigrants we spoke to is by no means representative of any form of statistical relevance it does present an interesting case. Andrews and her husband relocated easily, found a rental and bought two years later with limited frustration while Clifton, who was a qualified buyer with a sizeable deposit found relocation frustrating and difficult.
Ashley Larter, property consultant for Seeff Hout Bay and Llandudno says that about a quarter of his purchasers are upcountry buyers. “We would typically show enquiring buyers a video of the property, but in my experience serious buyers jump on a plane at the first opportunity.”
Basil Moraitis, Pam Golding Properties area manager for the Atlantic Seaboard, believes that there is no substitute for in-person, face-to-face meetings and viewings. Moraitis says that this helps the prospective buyer understand the market while it aids the agent in showing the buyer the kind of properties they know would be a hit. “We do, however, use our network of offices around the country and marketing to target buyers looking to semigrate,” he adds. “Occasionally these buyers come to us with unrealistic expectations of what they can afford in this market, but once again a few viewings of the property corrects this quickly and effectively.
“Up to one out of every three buyers in the peak selling months of January and February this year were from upcountry. These buyers are decisive and resolute in proceeding with their move to Cape Town,” says Moraitis, who explains that a buyer who comes with conditional offers might find it a tougher market.
Clients reportedly arrange for mortgage finance to secure their home in the Western Cape while waiting for their upcountry property to sell since sellers are unlikely to even consider conditional offers in the competitive Cape market.
Billy Rautenbach, sales director for Seeff Atlantic Seaboard, Waterfront and City Bowl agrees that repeat buyer semigrants will do wise to sell upcountry before even beginning the search for properties. Rautenbach, who suggests that trying to enter the market in the Western Cape with a “sell to buy” condition might just result in frustration and disappointment, believes that in certain scenarios renting initially in the Western Cape might be the most effective way to relocate.
“Sometimes it is better to rent first to scout out the different areas of the Cape. The Cape is very diverse, both in terms of the lifestyle and properties on offer. Someone moving from a suburb in Johannesburg (where it is quiet) might find Sea Point or Green Point quite busy, for example,” she explains.
Larter of Seeff Hout Bay and Llandudno says that regardless of the possible frustration that comes along with conditional offers to purchase, around 30% to 40% of his upcountry buyers are still making offers in this manner. His colleague, Steve van Wyk, MD of Seeff Centurion, says that they have certainly seen the effect of semigration, at least in Centurion, where the market has definitely become a buyer’s market.
“In Centurion there has been an almost 50% increase in properties for sale while the number of buyers has decreased by 40%,” says van Wyk, adding that his estimate is that a large number of the properties for sale are people looking to relocate to the Western Cape.
Annien Borg, Pam Golding Properties regional manager for Boland and Overberg offers a slightly different perspective on conditional sales, and the developing buyers’ market upcountry, saying that this often plays out in favour of the seller.
“If the seller accepted a full price offer of close to their asking price they do give the buyer a bit more time to sell,” explains Borg. “Often it plays in the seller’s favour. We have seen more sellers needing time to find something else to buy or find place in a retirement home before they can move.”
She does agree, however, that if the home is taking longer than expected to sell a good, less stressful solution is to rent for six months to a year.
Dexter Leibe, Pam Golding Properties rental manager for the Cape Metro, agrees that a slightly slower upcountry market does hold potential benefits for the rental market in the Western Cape. “Most of our upcountry clients are aged between 30 and their late 40s,” says Leibe. “If some of them have their upcountry homes on the market and need to relocate at a certain time the Western Cape rental market may be boosted as these semigrants opt to rent until their homes are sold.”
Jason Shaw, national sales executive for Pam Golding Properties, says that regardless of how a buyer decides to go about relocating they are almost always faced with a period of adjusting to their diminishing purchasing power in the Western Cape.
Borg, PGP’s regional manager for Boland and Overberg does not entirely agree, saying that her buyers typically do a lot of homework; they know where they want to live and are certain of the property and area characteristics they require. And because of the online property search options available these buyers have been tracking market activity in the areas they are interested in and know what they will need to pay.
“These buyers are serious; because there is such a huge demand for properties here our agents often canvas the area for properties not on the market to be able to give these upcountry clients exactly what they want,” explains Borg.
Shaw and Borg both agree that technology plays an important role in finalising the deal. “3D video technology is making it easier to shortlist properties, getting a real sense of the proportions, layout and flow of a property,” adds Shaw while Borg tells of a sale that was made recently based on an offer from the buyer with a subject to viewing clause attached to it.
“We make use of a Matterport camera on some of our properties, giving the client an opportunity to ‘walk’ through the house in virtual reality. This was done recently in Durbanville where the client made an offer subject to viewing without actually seeing the property. We sold the property for R4,75m a week later when he was able to see it.”
If area experts and professional agents are able to close a deal of close to R5m relying on technology then why do the semigrants we spoke to still report frustrations with the process? Clifton, who finally moved in July 2016 after starting his property search in February of the same year reports a lack of willingness from the agents he dealt with to accommodate upcountry buyers and find innovative methods to finalise a transaction.
“It should have been a dream deal for any agent. I had done all my homework, knew what I wanted and where I wanted it and had a 20% deposit,” says Clifton. “The only slightly unusual request I had, was for more photos, sound clips of the home and noise levels during certain periods of the day and a live video walk-through of one particular property I was ready to sign for. I wanted to be able to ask questions as the agents walked me through.”
According to Clifton the agent he was dealing with brushed his requests aside and suggested that he fly down to view a property if he was really that serious. “I simply did not have that kind of budget considering I was planning to move across the country. The fact is I feel like the agents I dealt with were really not up for doing much work – that is if I even got hold of one of them. You don’t want to know how many portal requests, e-mails and calls just went unanswered.”
Andrews had a far more efficient experience: “The ‘no longer available’ response to queries on places listed online was our biggest frustration when looking for a rental. We had started the search quite some time before the big trek so knew what to expect in terms of prices. The house hunt was a breeze both times.”
HomeTimes did a test, requesting to be contacted for 20 properties – a mix in price range, location and properties for sale and rental. All of the agents responded to our query by the next morning. Three of the properties were no longer available, with the agent offering to show us other suitable properties.
The interesting part is when we asked a well-known agent, from a respected agency in a sought-after area for any ideas on how to handle the viewing of an up-market property. We explained that we would not be able to get on a flight any time soon but have an interest in this particular property, could the agent arrange for a Skype video walkthrough of the property. It has been more than a month since this request was put to the agent and still no response.
Considering the response time and feedback from agents it seems that it is a ‘luck of the draw’ type experience, where each prospective buyer will simply feel different about the service, or lack thereof, received. But the industry should consider this: If upcountry semigration really is such a significant driver of the Western Cape property market then even one unhappy, dissatisfied semigrant is enough cause for concern.
Agency principals should take the necessary steps to ensure that their agents never leave a request for service unanswered, that potential clients are never left feeling anything but vitally important and, most importantly, that agents are early-adapters to new technologies and offerings in the market.
Industry experts’ step-by-step guide to hassle-free semigration
- Do your homework, track prices so that you know what to expect.
- If you are a homeowner and need to sell before relocating complete the sale before you start looking.
- Consider renting before buying; this will afford you the opportunity to ensure you are happy with the area you’ve identified.
- Once you’ve identified the area and property class you are interested in ask the agent you are working with to create a shortlist of suitable properties, expect and demand the opportunity to ‘view’ these properties using video technology but then plan and budget for at least one trip to meet your agent and view the property before making any life changing decisions.