Investing in a residential property is more than just investing in the house itself. Buyers also carefully consider the area into which they are buying. According to Antonie Goosen, principal and founder of Meridian Realty, the ongoing semigration trend taking place in South Africa and globally makes it clear that people are buying into villages, towns and cities that offer more than just the ideal home. “Buyers investigate what amenities areas offer and how an area can meet their expectations of a new, secure lifestyle with ample service delivery. We are seeing a new trend where communities are stepping up where municipalities are failing, to create the functioning conditions that residents desire,” says Goosen.

Antonie Goosen principal and founder of Meridian RealtyIn 2021, research was compiled on municipalities in South Africa titled the “Out of Order Index”, which ranked over 200 municipalities and eight metros nationally out of 100, with 0 representing failure and 100 representing a perfectly performing municipality. The index was compiled using data gathered from National Treasury’s budget data, the Auditor-General’s reports, and Statistics South Africa. It gives insight not only into the financial status of municipalities, but also adds unemployment, poverty, and basic service delivery to households into the analysis and scoring. To put the scores into context, the average index score for municipalities across South Africa was 45 out of 100. The non-Metro municipalities that performed best in the index featured a mix across provinces with the Western Cape contributing to 14 of the top 20. The Eastern Cape contributed two, while Northern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and Mpumalanga all had one. Among the main Metros, eThekwini Metro was ranked first with a score of 62, then Cape Town and City of Tshwane (Pretoria) both on 61, followed by Nelson Mandela Bay at 52. These rankings correlate with trends Goosen is seeing in the property market.

“When municipalities operate within the expectations of residents like, for example, in Cape Town, George, Plettenberg Bay, Hermanus, McGregor and Greyton (all of which are in the Western Cape), we are seeing a simultaneous semigration trend where one of the main attractions to an area is the functioning municipality, backed by solid residence associations keeping the city or town in pristine order,” says Goosen.

Unfortunately, in some instances municipalities lack funds and resources.

“We have seen a trend of more private businesses and residents stepping up where municipalities fall short. People want to make a positive contribution to their community. A good example of this is the ‘Tidy Towns’ and the ‘Keep Scottburgh Beautiful’ initiatives in Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN),” says Goosen. He goes on to say that the KZN South Coast had, until recently, seen less tourism input with the airport moving north to Ballito and the current boom in property development in the KZN North Coast. However, South Coast residents and business have stepped up to manage and maintain their towns. Off the back of this and in tandem, there are also new developments cropping up on the South Coast like the Mpambanyoni Conservation Development, extending from Scottburgh to Widenham, which will feature interconnected commercial and residential villages that will be developed over the next 20 to 30 years. Looking at the state of the Municipality in Scottburgh, for example, the index ranks UMdoni Municipality at 38 out of 100. However, development, residential input and semigration of younger families from nearby Durban and other metropols is seeing a change in the area for the positive.

Goosen says if you look at the Freestate, Rosendal, nestled at the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, is a melting pot of creatives, farmers, small businesses, and foreigners from all over. Known for its beauty, Rosendal forms part of the eastern Free State Highlands and over the past couple of years has been compared to places like Clarens in the Free State, which is also benefitting from the semigration trend. “Rosendal falls under the Dihlabeng municipality and is ranked 51 out of 100 by the Out of Order Index, which is above the country average. The community has come together under a strong town committee that has started to work closely with the local municipality in a collaborative manner. This is also backed up with a volunteer network that helps with feeding schemes and that also supported the community during Covid. All this cooperation and collaboration with various parties has elevated the town and will hopefully continue to make it an attractive place to buy property for creatives, semigrators and local and foreign investors,” says Goosen.

The Eastern Cape is also attracting semigrators, according to Goosen. He mentions in particular the Karoo Heartland, which includes towns like Graaf-Reinet, Aberdeen, Nieu Bethesda, Cradock and Somerset East, all of which offer rustic charm and are becoming increasingly popular because of the attractive prices in Karoo towns. “The Karoo appeal is becoming more commercial and almost in vogue with music festivals taking place in the Karoo, as well as culinary icons and artists choosing to headquarter themselves there. Graaf-Reinet, Aberdeen and Nieu Bethesda are all part of the Beyers Naude Municipality, which is ranked at 44 out of 100 and yet it was recently announced that the Graaff-Reinet Community Tourism (GRCTO) and the Beyers Naude Local Municipality’s (DBNLM) management had a ground-breaking two-day meeting, to renew their collaboration to work together to maintain the town. The town also boasts a Heritage Society backed by community members that is involved in preservation activities around the town, which is, incidentally, South Africa’s fourth oldest town. Other organisations in the town help with public garden maintenance, community development and the promotion of tourism into the area. It is no surprise that Graaff-Reinet was among the finalists in the Kyknet town of the year competition in 2022,” says Goosen.

Goosen says another key to building and maintaining towns is to empower and build surrounding disadvantaged communities and allow them to reap the benefit of the ‘Zoom town boom.’ This is enabled through social development organisations within the respective cities, towns and villages and enhanced through semigrators injecting money into areas and creating potential job opportunities. “Social development must be key in community building and allowing disadvantaged individuals to enter the workforce in an area. Meridian proudly supports the Imibala Trust, which is a registered South African NPO that works with children whose lives are affected by impoverished circumstances. The Trust provides a unique platform through which they offer programmes that make a substantial and measurable difference in the daily and future lives of the children. This is how communities can ensure that the youth can make a positive contribution to their communities,” says Goosen.

According to Goosen we are just skimming the surface of magical places in South Africa that are benefitting from the semigration trend. “More importantly, however, is the community camaraderie and involvement we are seeing play out in communities, where people are getting their hands dirty and collaborating to keep their neighbourhoods maintained and clean. The rise of smaller towns and villages previously considered to be off the beaten track or in disrepair is also providing an opportunity for development and wealth creation, breathing life back into South Africa’s hidden gems,” concludes Goosen.

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