The Sandton CBD in Johannesburg, empty and unproductive during the Covid-19 lockdown. Picture: SEBABATSO MOSAMO
The Sandton CBD in Johannesburg, empty and unproductive during the Covid-19 lockdown. Picture: SEBABATSO MOSAMO

We probably all know of friends or neighbours who spent the hard lockdown holed up in their coastal holiday pads or platteland bolt-holes.

For many, it’s a move that may become permanent.

Industry players are already noticing a steady trek to smaller coastal and popular inland villages as more companies adopt remote and flexible working policies.

Lightstone Analytics director Paul-Roux de Kock says there’s no doubt the pandemic is reshaping SA’s work landscape — and, with it, where many people choose to live.

He says a reported uptick in housing sales activity since June, when lockdown restrictions eased, suggests working professionals are looking to move to coastal and rural areas in greater numbers than before.

That could spark a second wave of relocations, with pensioners following their children and grandchildren.

While the work-from-home trend seems to have encouraged prospective buyers to consider areas that offer a safer, more relaxed and better quality of life, De Kock says that affordability is also a factor.

With interest rates near a 50-year low, cheaper mortgage funding is making it viable for homeowners to sell and upgrade, or purchase a second property.

De Kock’s views are supported by FNB property sector strategist John Loos. His recent survey of commercial property brokers reveals that at least half expect companies to re-evaluate their space requirements.

This comes on the back of the lockdown “Zoom boom” — the rise in remote meetings via online platform s such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

Many expect companies to cut back on office space in a bid to save on overhead costs.

However, Loos says while South Africans may be re-evaluating their lifestyle needs, the extent to which working from home will be adopted in the long term is still uncertain. As such, he expects many may initially be hesitant to move too far from the corporate head office.

“We could see a noticeable increase in popularity of living in [towns] surrounding the bigger cities, perhaps within a two-hour drive from the office, but not within a two hour flight ,” he says.

“For Gauteng commuters, Potchefstroom springs to mind ... It’s a sizeable town, with amenities such as retail, schools, a university and medical facilities that many working households would want, and about a 1-hour drive from Joburg.”

Estate agents confirm that there’s been an uptick in demand for properties in smaller coastal and popular rural villages recently.

Pam Golding Property group CEO Andrew Golding is seeing rising sales in

areas that have traditionally been viewed as retirement or holiday destinations, which

hold the appeal of “more affordable homes and a relaxed lifestyle”.

He names Knysna, Hermanus, Pringle Bay and the entire Whale Coast, as well as Malmesbury and Stanford in the Western Cape as prime examples.

Golding also sees more buyer interest in second homes, including weekend getaway spots.

He says wildlife estates in the bushveld areas of Hoedspruit and Modimolle in Limpopo are proving particularly popular.

Coastal enclaves in the Eastern Cape, typically within an hour’s commute from East London or Port Elizabeth, including St Francis Bay, Chintsa and Kenton-on-Sea, are becoming increasingly sought-after relocation destinations.

Seeff Property Group reports a similar exodus from busy urban areas to the coast and country.

As company chair Samuel Seeff puts it: “People are saying if they must stay home and work from home, they might as well do it in better surroundings.”

He says the impact of this has already been felt across many areas of the Cape and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) in particular. “Langebaan has become sought after for its close proximity to Cape Town (less than a twohour drive). It offers stunning upmarket properties, a golf estate, the Mykonos development, a Curro private school and easy access to the commercial centres of Vredenburg and Saldanha.”

Seeff says Hermanus is also increasingly being favoured by Capetonians as a work-from-home base or weekend getaway. Plettenberg Bay has experienced a similar uptick in interest, with people looking to relocate from more crowded Cape Town.

Ian Badenhorst, MD for Seeff Karoo and country, says a number of Overberg towns have also started to appear on the radar of “semigrants”, including Struisbaai, Bonnievale, Swellendam, Bredasdorp and Ladismith.

On the KZN north coast, Seeff licensee Mark Johnson achieved the best sales

months in the branch’s history in June, July and August.

Sales included a freestanding beach-front property in Salt Rock for a record R12m — sold to an expat who plans to relocate back to SA — as well as R11.25m and R8.5m sales in Simbithi Eco Estate, both to semigrating buyers.

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