News from The Property Magazine

I was still single and sports mad,’ says Derek Watts just a touch wistfully at a coffee shop where he has managed to twist his 1.98m frame into a tiny chair and neatly under an equally tiny table. ‘I would never have thought I’d actually buy property. It’s such a grown-up thing to do and journalists are pretty day-by-day people. But my older brother Roy, who’s been in property most of his life, said I had to buy something and settle down. These are horrible words to a single journo!’

Watts bought a spacious, three-bedroom duplex townhouse in Braemar, a complex in upmarket Strathavon, northern Johannesburg, in 1987. A big place for a bachelor, no matter how tall, his brother insisted it would be a good investment. He paid R96 000 for it.

‘Let me tell you, it hurt! I was working for the SABC at the time and they weren’t the most generous payers.’

He was on TV seven days a week then doing sports bulletins for three evenings mid-week and at weekends, as well as Good Morning South Africa for the other three days.

‘I remember getting up at about 3.30 a.m. three days a week and Braemar is down in the dip near the spruit and it was freezing, with mist everywhere. But it was a very handy place for someone working odd hours. And of course I had to party between working. I remember, as I signed the bond papers, I felt my carefree days – my youth and vitality – leaving me forever. No longer could I be drunk and disorderly, but my brother forced me.’

Having been a ‘commune boy’ all his life, Watts dragged a few friends into the townhouse to help pay the bond and to keep him socially viable. The mysterious changes in his life started almost immediately.

‘I went horse riding in the Magaliesberg. I always fall off. It’s the only thing I have in common with Eugene Terreblanche. Anyway, as I cartwheeled into the ground, a dog trotted up to have a look at me and just didn’t leave. I thought, I’ve got the property, I may as well get the pet. So I took him home. On the way I stopped at Pick ‘n Pay to buy dog food. I left the dog and my girlfriend in the car. In the store, I bumped into a girl called Belinda buying cat food. We got chatting and I managed to get her phone number.’ The dog left the next day; Belinda stayed and she and Watts were soon married. There is no word of the car-bound girlfriend.

Watts has no idea how Belinda ‘coped’ with his décor. ‘I had taken over the previous owner’s curtains, which had a bamboo print design. I had a three-piece, dark brown Dralon lounge suite and my Hi-Fly sailboard in the lounge. If the fridge was stocked with Castles, I considered it perfectly decorated.’ Known officially as the Bulawayo-bred Bachelor Bauhaus Style, Belinda soon got things into shape.

His career was to change shape too. ‘I was approached by M-Net to start with Carte Blanche in late 1988. I went from sports presenter, footloose and fashion-free, to a serious journalist. It was a crash course in all sorts of realities. Having never been in a township I was suddenly there every other day covering the dreadful violence of those times.’

Crime had yet to reach the suburbs, however. Watts remembers the townhouse complex having no gate, no electric fencing and no guard. ‘The only problem was car radios getting nicked. They tried to get mine a couple of times but I used to come screaming out of the house in the dark swinging my squash racquet, fighting for freedom and justice. It seemed to do the trick!’ Watts graciously allows that his strict crime-fighting dress code of underpants-only may have been more of a deterrent than his backhand.

Watts can’t remember why they sold the house although wanting a bigger garden, keeping up with the financial times and earning more money with the new job at Carte Blanche was probably part of it.

‘I did learn something about the property game though. We were thinking about selling – just thinking, we hadn’t bought anywhere else – and stupidly signed a sole mandate. In those days if you named a price and it was met, you were obliged to sell. I remember a top name in real estate sitting in my lounge, drinking my whisky, screaming at me about how he was going to sue if I tried to get out of the deal. We had to find somewhere to live for six months while we went house hunting. I won’t make that mistake again.’

Watts was not-so-young and ignorant back then, but he did a lot of growing up in his first house. ‘I got a new lifestyle, a new wife, a new pet (briefly) and a new career. Beware the suburban townhouse – your life will never be the same again!’

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