Overseas property: The Brits building their dreams for less in South Africa

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The Independent Online

How does dinner in London and breakfast in Cape Town sound? Such is the ease of travelling to South Africa: with a time difference of two hours, jet lag isn't an issue.

The Western Cape area has become a big draw for UK visitors and many are buying second homes there. And with the rand at a low of 14 to the pound, even expensive property looks like good value.

The Beckhams, Elton John and Roman Abramovich have all been seen house-hunting here, and suburbs such as Constantia and Haut Bay are awash with £3m-plus modernist mansions. But homes a short drive up the coast can be found for much less.

"You can pay in the region of £43,000 for a nice home here," says Sally Wilson of Aylesford International's South African office, "but the area wouldn't necessarily be the best and the property would probably have one bedroom."

Wilson says a family-sized home in a nearby coastal town would start from £70,000, while a large beachfront house on the Atlantic seaboard just outside Cape Town would cost around £580,000. "But if you venture up the west coast, which is less developed, you would be looking at a nice home for around £110,000."

Many of these properties either overlook, or a short walk from, the beach – and what beaches they are. The Western Cape is edged with long ribbons of white sand and rugged cliffs of red stone. Often you'll have a bay all to yourself, bar a wandering ostrich or a visit from dolphins.

The bonus of buying here is that you tend to get more property for your money – as well as more peace and space. Land is readily available and plots start from £30,000 for 300sqm, even in some beachfront areas. So anyone with a hankering for a home here might find it more cost effective to self-build. It also gives you the opportunity to design your dream home.

A recent change to the law, however, has decreed property can no longer be built within 100m of the beach. This means that any coastal land with planning permission already in place has become highly sought after and risen dramatically in value.

Plots in the Oyster Bay development at Pinnacle Point near Mosselbaai, for example, are selling through Aylesford from £425,000 for 1,000sqm. The cost of building will add around the same figure but that will give you a sea-facing home on one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world.

Dubliner Paul Deveney is one new resident. He bought a 2,000sqm plot two years ago for £250,000 and is building a vast, three-storey home with glass walls, marble fittings and pool, on the cliff edge. Ronan Keating is a neighbour and the Pinnacle Point golf course is on the doorstep. "I bought here because it's the most special place," says Mr Deveney. "I only wish I'd bought earlier."

Go further West and you still can find plots for £100,000 near the town of Knysna. Jeffrey and Carola Babcock, from Buckinghamshire, fell in love with South Africa while on holiday and, in 2005, bought a 7,200sqm plot overlooking the sea at the Pezula resort.

After three years of working with a local architect and builders, the couple are now in the final stages of completing their bespoke four-bedroom home. With its contemporary design, in which each section of the property is a separate segment connected by terraces and walkways, the house is exactly as the couple wanted it to be.

Though shy of revealing exactly how much it cost, Jeffrey says that the house (which sits high on a coastal bluff and will have 120-degree views of the sea), a pool and a large area of garden, all came at a fraction of what such a home would be in the UK. "It can work out at less than £500,000 to buy land and build a huge house designed totally to your specifications with fantastic views," he says. "You wouldn't get much in Buckinghamshire for that these days."

www.aylesford.com, 020-7351 2383; www.pezula.com, 0027 44 302 5332; www.sothebysrealty.co.za, 0027 21 673 1200; www.quintessentiallyestates.com, 020-7758 3331

Buyers' guide

* Non-nationals can own without restriction in South Africa. For long-term stays, a residency permit is needed.

* Once terms and a completion date have been agreed and surveys carried out, the title deeds are investigated by the Deeds Registry office, before registration and transfer. A transfer tax of 5 to 8 per cent is also levied.

* Non-nationals can borrow up to 50 per cent of the property value from a South African bank. Note that interest rates are at 12.5 per cent.

* Check that beachfront land you're buying has permission to build or you may end up with nothing but a patch of sandy soil.

* Crime is an issue in some areas and you may feel safer having security measures in place if you own near the city.

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