PROPERTY NEWS - Ever since Covid-19 put everyone in South Africa into a hard lockdown at home, there has been a steady increase in the number of people rethinking their housing choices and deciding to make changes as fast as they can.
And one of the biggest trends to emerge has been the migration away from big cities to smaller towns along the coast or in more rural settings.
However, says Gerhard Kotzé, MD of the RealNet estate agency group, there are many factors to consider before you just make the leap from city to country living, starting with the real costs of relocating.
"One of the biggest drivers of the current movement away from the big cities is the desire for more living space and more opportunity to take part in family outdoor activities - and the prospect of buying both these things for much less in the countryside," Kotzé says.
"This applies particularly to those who have children and found out during lockdown that their homes were too small to accommodate everyone's needs (home office spaces, home schooling spaces, home gyms) when they were all at home together."
And it is true, he says, that home prices are often considerably lower in smaller towns, which gives buyers the opportunity to purchase a bigger property for the same money and often, the chance to get closer to nature too.
"We also see quite a number of people now moving from the suburbs to country or coastal lifestyle estates that offer a range of sports facilities and outdoor pursuits. But it is very important to include several other items in your calculations so that you can determine the real cost of the new lifestyle you envisage.
"These include one-time expenses such as the legal and transfer costs that apply when you buy a new home, the costs of selling your old home, the costs of moving all your belongings, and the costs of any renovations or upgrades to your new home. You also need to plan for ongoing maintenance, just as with your current home, and if you are planning to live in a really remote area, you probably need to increase your transport and vehicle maintenance budget.
"Then, if you are moving to a country estate or gated complex, you will need to include the monthly levy."
Other strong motivations for packing up and heading for smaller towns, Kotzé says, include a growing desire among many families to live closer to certain friends or relatives who make up their extended support system and, among younger homeowners and tenants especially, the closure of many of the shops, restaurants and workplaces that used to make city-centre living fun as well as cost-effective.
"Many young people just don't see the point anymore of paying higher rents or home prices for a tiny space in the inner city when they are now working remotely anyway and can probably pay much less for more space somewhere else.
"That trend has been boosted by the current very low interest rates, which are also making it cheaper for many young remote workers to buy their own home instead of renting, especially if they move out of town."
To make this plan work, though, their preferred location does need to have really good internet and cellphone connectivity, so this is the second most important thing for remote workers to check while planning an "escape" from the city, he says.
Other vital considerations include:
Many small towns in SA have erratic water and power supplies, so you may need to buy a generator, water storage tanks and some solar power panels if you want to live comfortably. You should also check the state of the access roads and decide if you will need a more rugged vehicle.
Shops, schools and medical services
You might not want to live in a town with a huge shopping mall, but it's not much fun to have to drive 50km to the next town every time you need bread and milk or medical attention, so it's important to ensure that there is a local outlet for basic supplies - or better still, a local farmers' market where you can buy fresh bread and produce - and a local doctor. If your children will be attending school, it should preferably also not be a long daily bus ride away.
Leisure time pursuits
If you're making the move because you love the outdoors, make sure your chosen location is close to hiking and biking trails, bird-watching spots and a golf course or two. Or if you are a beach person, there should be places nearby to swim, fish, surf or sail. Some country estates offer many of these facilities inside a secure perimeter, as well as other sporting facilities, a clubhouse, a restaurant and perhaps even a wellness centre.
The local community
Relocating is always much easier if you move to a place with a friendly and active community that will welcome you and your family and encourage you to participate in local cultural events and celebrations. This is especially important if you are a creative person and would like to mingle with other artists, writers or musicians.
"Obviously it is difficult to find all this out from a distance, so it really is worth contacting a reputable local estate agent who will be able to give you all the information you need, as well as photographs and videos of homes for sale that match your specifications. What is more, if they belong to a national group like RealNet, they will also be able to help you sell your existing property and speed up your escape."
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