Traditionally, South Africa has not figured greatly in the minds of British buyers searching for homes abroad. But increasing numbers are now heading to this southernmost tip of the African continent in search of new homes and often new lives.
Emarie Campbell of Seeff Residential, a national agency with 138 offices across South Africa, has noticed a recent influx of British buyers at the Homes Overseas exhibitions: "I would say that our biggest foreign investment now comes from the UK." She pinpoints three reasons for the rise in interest: "South Africa has been very well marketed, people also now realise that it is no longer so scary and, lastly, it is just a sleep away on an overnight flight. You leave at 8pm and are here by 8am and there is just one hour's time difference."
According to Campbell, around 80 per cent of buyers want to live on the coast along the Cape Peninsula, where her office is based, and which many claim as one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. But the country's size - it covers an area of more than 1,000,000km2 - and geographical diversity ensures that there is something for everyone, whether they prefer a retreat hidden away in vineyards or access to the country's deserts, savannah, snow-covered mountains, grassland or mangrove swamps. Many buyers want to be near golf courses, of which there are more than 500.
Campbell finds that budgets vary widely and there is no typical buyer, but although the pound has weakened against the rand in recent years, the current exchange rate of around 12.40 Rand per pound means that, whatever their budget, buyers get a lot for their cash. "If you've got £100,000 you will get a luxury house of at least 300m2. You also get four bedrooms, a double garage, swimming pool plus a lot of house." Campbell has found that the country's relatively low cost of living is an attraction for people retiring permanently to South Africa.
She explains: "They can sell their homes in the UK for £200,000, find an equivalent home here for around £50,000-£60,000 and put the rest of their money in the bank. People find that they come here and they are millionaires times three!" And Campbell has discovered the reverse when she visits the UK: "Here, I can buy a whiskey for around 50 pence but when I come to you I can't even afford to drink whiskey."
David and Margaret Marsh recently retired to South Africa after selling their Yorkshire home and have already benefited from the cheaper cost of living. "We bought a large, rundown house as our plan was to turn it into a guesthouse. We started doing it up but in the meantime someone offered us more than we paid for it, around £40,000, so we made a huge profit."
The Marshes are full of enthusiasm for their new life in Cape Town: "It's an absolutely beautiful country. We've travelled all over the world but this beats everything, including Australia." The Marshes have recently bought another property on the upmarket Flamingo Vlei, complete with large plot and swimming pool, but their initial success at selling on their first property at a profit has inspired them to do the same thing again and bank the profit. "The interest rates on savings here are so good, around 12 to 13 per cent, that we are finding that we can live off the interest as it's very cheap to live here."
The Marshes believe that South Africa gets a bad press in relation to its actual crime figures: "Just the other day, Sky News said there is shooting on the streets of Cape Town. It annoys us as we find it so safe here and street crime really is confined to a very small area. There is absolutely no need to be frightened of coming here."
Seeff Residential are marketing several properties on Flamingo Vlei, including a three-bedroom house complete with Jacuzzi, pool and views of Table Mountain on Weaver Street, which is for sale at R1,250,000. R510, 000 buys you a three-bedroomed house with pool on Table View and for R2,150,000 a four-bedroomed house with pool on West Beach, Cape Town is being marketed as "a Tuscan masterpiece" due to its opulent style.
Ocean Estates manager Sharon Lester relocated to South Africa from Spain six months ago to run the Cape Town branch. Although enquiries were initially slow, the coming months will see at least 30 inspection flights from the UK. Lester has noticed that a younger, wealthier set are being drawn to the country, both for its outdoors pursuits - game watching, surfing and river-rafting - and its nightlife: "Many of them want to be in Camps Bay, which is very like Puerto Banus in Spain and where there are great clubs, bars and restaurants."
Barney Spender of Blendon Communications, which produces Homes Overseas Magazine, lived in the country for several years before returning to London. A frequent traveller all over the world, it is South Africa that tops his wish list: "If I had a spare £100,000 I would definitely buy a retreat there. It's a wonderful country and a fantastic investment."
Seef Residential: 0027 21 557 1115, www.seeff.com
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