October 6th, 2012

Rare window of opportunity in St Francis Bay

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St Francis Bay, a picturesque village on the Sunshine Coast where the price for a canal-side home averages anywhere from R4,5m to R10m, has long been a playground for the wealthy.

However, on the back of rising living costs and a concurrent lack of real estate price growth in the area, some owners are offloading their properties for less than their original purchase price.

That’s according to Esme Welman, principal of Harcourts St Francis Bay, who says limited growth in local property prices over the last three years, along with heightened budgetary constraints for consumers across the board, has created a rare window of opportunity for non-millionaire buyers.

Midway between Port Elizabeth and Knysna, the quaint town has a unique character that lies in its white-walled, thatched roof houses, canal system, pristine beaches and balmy Mediterranean climate. In addition, it boasts a Top 10 championship golf course set within the St Francis Bay Links Golf Estate, where Welman says it’s possible to pick up a vacant stand for under R300 000 at the moment.

“Plots, in particular, are generating a lot of interest among people looking for bargain investments,” she says. “People feel confident that when they buy in upmarket areas such as St Francis Bay, they are investing in the future. This sentiment, along with positive, albeit it minimal, national house growth, is attracting strong interest from buyers looking for affordable seaside properties.”

She adds: “A lot of our buyers are South Africans working on contract in Egypt, Dubai, Ghana and neighbouring countries. They’re earning good money and want to invest some of it in a bargain property or buy a holiday place for their families for the future. Interestingly, we’ve also seen our website hits from China and Russia jump from three or four to up to 40 and 10 respectively in recent times.”

Most in demand are homes in the R1,3m to R2m price range, and building plots for between R145 000 and R400 000, she continues. There’s also keen interest in apartments, some of which are “exceptionally” well-priced in the mid R500 000’s, and houses under R1,3m – which are few and far between.

Buyers with serious spending power have a selection of ultra-luxury homes from which to choose, the most expensive of Welman’s listings being an 850m² canal-side mansion for R18,5m. The “architectural masterpiece” offers seven bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a cinema room, heated indoor pool, library with coffee station, Jacuzzi, slide open roof to enjoy star gazing and its own mooring.

She also has a variety of homes for sale along Tom Brown Boulevard, known locally as “Millionaires Row. Among her recent listings here is a house for R5,5m. On the edge of the sea, it comprises three bedrooms (all en suite), family room, braai/entertainment room, “stunning” open-plan kitchen, cosy pub, lounge with fireplace, three garages and ocean views.

Among the upmarket homes available at Otters Landing, a sought-after residential area near the harbour, is a three bedroom (all en suite) house with sea views, formal lounge with fireplace, diningroom, ultra-modern kitchen, double garage and swimming pool, for R4,3m.

Owing to its status as a top holiday destination, St Francis Bay makes good sense for investors, she continues. “Owners of luxury homes are achieving rental returns of up to R5 000 a day during the hot seasons, which typically extend over December and January, and April,” she says.  “Aside from South Africans, we also get a lot of visitors from overseas who rent for three or four months at a time to escape their extreme winters. They are willing to pay high sums of money, sometimes as much as R60 000 a month, for the best quality homes.”

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