I do not function well when I don’t have a home. I feel disconnected and a little bit panicky. Correspondingly, I have prioritized real estate in the first two weeks of my being in South Africa. Yesterday, that search reached a new stage as I made an offer to purchase a townhouse.
If you know me well, you probably know I am content to stay indoors much of the time. Cape Town society, though, tends to make full use of the outdoors as living space, in part because of the moderate temperatures they enjoy most of the year. When I think of houses in Cape Town, I think of places designed to integrate outdoor grilling areas and swimming pools with a generous porch. Rather than live in a singleton house, I wanted to be part of a shared development to benefit from its shared security arrangements and social community. Knowing that I would be moving to a smaller property, I have been divesting myself of furniture and other goods for much of the last year.
My baseline goal for a flat or townhouse was 100 square meters (think 1000 sq. feet), preferably with three bedrooms. Proximity to Tygerberg Hospital was a priority so I could avoid a long commute. In particular, I wanted to avoid taking the N1 road, which becomes a parking lot at rush hour. To keep to the safer part of the city, I was advised to stay north of the N1 for my housing.
Two developments from the last two decades recommended themselves: the Tyger Waterfront and Bella Rosa. Both were built at the sites of former quarries, but the Waterfront filled the quarry to create a reservoir water feature and topped up other pits with landfill; the smaller Bella Rosa relied on landfill only. Both would be convenient distances from the popular Tyger Valley Shopping Centre.
My hopes in these two sites were dashed by in-person inspection. I visited Bella Rosa my first week in town, and I was dismayed by deep cracks in almost every concrete surface. One of the buildings was surrounded with scaffolding, and others were queued for similar repairs. The concrete betrayed that it was rushed in setting, leaving it vulnerable to breaking apart. As a result, this ten-year-old facility is already in need of a face lift. Things appear to be as bad at the other development. Everyone who lived in Tyger Waterfront said it was fine to rent there but that they would never buy. It’s a mammoth complex of buildings filled with 20- and 30-somethings, almost all renting. Yes, it offers convenient access to two malls and restaurants integrated into the ground floors, and the reservoir is pretty. One of the first buildings there was demolished, though, because it was structurally unsound, and other buildings show signs of settling foundations, as well. I resolved to look at older construction since these projects were less rushed.
Last weekend, my host family and I were visiting an open house at a typical up-scale individual house (priced at 3.1 million rand). I had struggled to find realtors (here called estate agents) who would reliably correspond. Tim and Caron Upton were conducting the open house, and she reported that she had some properties in mind that I might like quite well. That night, she sent me the listing for a townhouse in Eversdal, an area of town between Bellville and Durbanville. On Tuesday, December 1st, I got the chance to see it in person.
There’s quite a shift toward “security estates” in the Western Cape. Essentially, a development is built around the concept that people who live there are the only ones who have business being in a community. At Welgedacht (“Well thought”), for example, one must register at a significant security post at the single entrance before passing into the grounds, showing your identification and having your car license plate recorded. At another property I was shown (this time to the west of Tygerberg), the estate agent noted that even the postman is not allowed to fill the mailboxes without a security guard at his or her hip. To me, living in a security estate makes the statement that the city is a dangerous place, and I must set myself apart from it.
The development in which Turtle House sits is rather different. Constructed in 1992, the buildings themselves are designed for heightened security, but there are no barriers to entry of the streets themselves. The grounds are covered in lovely plants by the homeowners’ association and by individual homeowners. Happily, the price for this older unit was considerably lower than the others I had considered, falling below two million rand (less than $140,000). The townhouse featured three bedrooms (one for a child with a built-in desk) and 162 square meters of space (1743 square feet). It is not the brightest place I have seen inside, but I think I will be happy there, and bright sunlight is always easy to find in the Western Cape! The patio area is drenched in light at all hours.
On Saturday, December 5th, I made an offer on the place. The seller’s agent came to the townhouse to unlock it for us (South Africa doesn’t use the lock boxes that are a familiar feature of real estate in the United States), and I met with my estate agents and two contractors with whom my agents were familiar. They poked their heads into the roof space, looked at the plumbing, checked over the electrical relay box, and considered the security aspects of the place. That afternoon I met with my agents to prepare the offer. We decided to ask for the refrigerator that was currently housed there, and we picked a price point we thought would be acceptable.
We expect to know by noon today whether our offer will become the contract. Waiting is always the hardest part.
UPDATE: My offer was accepted!