Commuting woes

The increase in traffic congestion, rise in petrol costs and slow upgrade of transport systems are driving people to buy property closer to their places of work.

"There is a global trend of people buying near their workplaces, and South Africa is no exception," says Saul Geffen, chief executive of MortgageSA.

That's not too surprising: some 715 000 new cars were sold last year, with that expected to increase to more than 770 000 in 2007, according to Road Traffic Management Corporation statistics.

Petrol hikes

That means that nearly 2000 new cars hit South Africa's roads per day — the majority of which are driven in major cities.

With this kind of growth, the government has been unable to match the increase in traffic volume with necessary upgrades to the roads system and suitable public transport.

This, coupled with an approximately 18 percent increase in the petrol since the beginning of the year, has affected thousands of South Africans commuting to work daily.

"Commuting can be stressful, expensive and time consuming," says Geffen.

Your health

And surprisingly, it's also bad for your health! Research conducted by the University of California at Irvine’s Institute of Transportation Studies found that the hours spent behind the wheel raise blood pressure, cause workers to get sick and stay home more often and intensify muscle pains and headaches.

"Increasingly people are choosing to plough the extra money saved on the high cost of travel into a purchase of a house nearer to their place of work, rather than face being stuck in traffic for hours," says Geffen. "It is becoming a lifestyle choice to live closer to your place of work."

With the rapid growth in the economy, South African cities are beginning to parallel major international cities such as London, New York and Sydney in terms of traffic congestion and transport issues.

Affordability problems

"South Africa is beginning to follow global trends in terms of transport problems and this directly affects property choices," says Geffen.

This trend has had a major influence on property prices: the value of properties within commercial areas such as Sandton and Rosebank in Johannesburg and the city bowl in Cape Town have increased sharply.

And that in turn has resulted in affordability in these areas becoming a concern. For many workers, commuting seems to be the cheaper option, rather than buying a property in an area near to their office centres.

However, this needn’t be a deciding factor.

Back roads

"People looking to buy closer to work shouldn’t feel pressurised to buy within that specific area, especially if it stretches their finances to the limit," says Geffen.

"Rather, they should spend more time researching the surrounding areas. More than likely they will find an area that drastically reduces the amount of travelling time, is quickly linked to their office via back roads and is better suited to their price range."

According to South African National Roads Agency, there are currently some 180 000 cars travelling on the N1 between Pretoria and Johannesburg daily.

Gautrain effect

With the construction of the Gautrain along this route, South Africa may develop further similarities to other international cities as properties in close proximity to the stations face growing demand. This is currently more often than not the opposite in South Africa.

"Government is addressing the public transport situation, albeit slowly. Whilst the first phase of the Gautrain is only due to be completed in three years time, with no apparent relief in traffic congestion, the future benefits of living near reliable public transport could be well worth the investment," Geffen says.

Nearer to the completion of the Gautrain, an increase in property prices in the areas surrounding the stations is expected.

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