Laid-back lifestyle

The pearly gates, according to Nelspruit residents, is the Strydom Tunnel, the geographical split between a featureless highveld landscape and the lowveld’s lush flamboyance. In this part of the world, with its sultry heat and dazzling colour, nothing is subtle.

Nelspruit originated as a sleepy farming community in 1892 and, despite astronomical expansion and an influx of people since 1995, when the town was declared the legislative capital of Mpumalanga, still hasn’t managed to shake off its rural image

Life moves at a languid pace and at the height of summer, when the temperature soars into the high 30s, almost comes to a grinding halt. Newcomers battle to cope with this lack of urgency, but eventually become all too familiar with the laid-back lifestyle.

Nelspruit is slowly becoming a hip and happening city. It is the regional business centre of an area straddling not only a large part of Mpumalanga, but also Mozambique and Swaziland.

It is a boomtown of industry, and for at least a decade the property market has seen unprecedented growth, consistently out-performing the rest of the country. And that’s not set to change anytime soon.

The establishment of the Provincial Government catalysed the arrival of government employees, the opening of new businesses and industries, and a subsequent explosion in the property market. The buyers’ profile mostly features clients looking for family homes. There is also a demand for vacant land, which is usually sold off in large segments and snapped up by developers.

As the city expands, the ‘right’ address keeps changing. Decades ago it was Van Wijk Street in Nelspruit Central, now positively retro with its 1970s sensibilities. The ’80s saw the development of Steiltes, a lofty suburb characterised by impossibly steep driveways, which is now outclassed by mansions on eco-estates and golf estates surrounding the city.

‘Nelspruit’s well-heeled now live in Shandon, Noordsig, Uitsig and Matumi,’ says Francois Neuhoff, financial manager of WH & Sons Group, a large player in the Nelspruit property market, referring to exclusive wildlife and golfing estates that have sprung up on the outskirts of town. Shandon Estate is a low-density development in a nature reserve where most of the stands have a spectacular view and guaranteed privacy. The starting price for a vacant stand is between R574 000 and R800 000 – the cheapest house on offer is R4-million.

High-density development is also on the rise. Riverside Gardens, an upmarket 52-unit residential development near the government complex, sold out before completion in 2006. At Boschrand Heights, a 950ha area north of Nelspruit, 650ha have been approved for residential development and will provide approximately 2 100 stands over the next 10 to 15 years. But no matter how hard the developers try, demand seems to outweigh supply.

There is currently a surplus of empty stands, as residential development slowed during the recession. ‘It’ll take about two years to redress the balance,’ comments Johann Doubell of Colliers International. ‘At the moment it’s probably better to buy a completed house, although you can snap up an empty stand for about R100 000. A few years ago the price was around R300 000. The prices of stands have come down, but not property prices.’

The commercial property business is also booming. The area’s largest commercial property developer, HL Hall & Sons Properties, developed the industrial township of Rocky Drift between Nelspruit and White River in the 1980s. In 1990, Halls Gateway to the Lowveld, an 8 500m² tourism and retail development on the N4 just west of town, followed.

Nelspruit had to wait until 1996 for Riverside Mall, the region’s first fully-fledged regional shopping centre. The 50 000m² development was a joint venture between Halls and Colliers RMS. Locals thought they’d finally arrived, but this was only the beginning.

Various commercial and residential developments in the Riverside area followed, and after it was announced in 2006 that Nelspruit would be one of the country’s 10 host cities during the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup, development on the Mbombela Stadium and infrastructure started in earnest.

I’langa Mall, comprising 45 000 m2 of high-end shopping, is set to open in April this year. Anchored by Pick ’n Pay, Edgars, Game and Woolworths, the centre will introduce a number of retailers, including @HomeLivingSpace, Dion Wired, Hang Ten, Due South and Mr Price Sport, to the area for the first time.

In the meantime, the CBD, the main office and shopping node 20 years ago, has undergone a transformation. As Riverside’s development is largely commercial, office space had to be found, and one solution has been to rezone residential property in Nelspruit Extension 1, adjacent to the town centre. Many of Nelspruit’s oldest homes there have been converted into offices, offering a practical, if slightly tacky-looking, solution to the space problem.

According to Johann, rents in the CBD and its extension range from R85/m2 to R100/m2, whereas office space in a new building in the Riverside area varies from R120/m2 to
R150/m2. ‘At this stage, development is exceeding demand, which is a good thing, as it keeps rent tariffs in line. It’s all positive for the consumer, as better rates can be negotiated.’

Nelspruit’s residential property market has never shown negative growth. Prices have risen steadily, although ‘some years they grow slightly less. It used to take five years for the value of a residential property to double, now it takes about six to seven years,’ Johann says.

He reckons very few people anticipated the extent of Nelspruit’s expansion and credits the phenomenal growth to a variety of factors, including Mozambican buying power.
‘Many Mozambican residents own property in Nelspruit, but their retail influence has diminished as their own economy stabilised and national companies opened branches there,’ he explains.

Francois Neuhoff says Mozambicans buy into townhouse developments because they are small, compact and practical, the lock-up-and-go aspect appealing to out-of-towners.

Looking at rough price indications, entry-level homes range in price from around R550 000 for one-bedroom, apartment-type accommodation, while mid-level prices for homes are in the region of R850 000 to R1,2-million for a family home.

A relative newcomer to the area, Neuhoff says as an outsider he finds Nelspruit fascinating. In his opinion, property here is more expensive than in Pretoria, but salaries don’t reflect this. ‘Companies are quick to point out they can’t pay “big city” salaries, but don’t hesitate to charge their clients “big city” fees.”

It’s a common complaint among locals. It’s not cheap to live in Nelspruit, but pay cheques don’t reflect this. According to one survey, income per capita is only about 80% of the national average.

‘Young graduates put up with life in Jo’burg to earn the salaries,’ Johann observes. ‘Once they have kids and get totally fed up with the traffic, they move here.’
Nelspruit attracts all sorts, contributing to the area’s diverse and dynamic character. A large proportion of artists and eccentrics find their way here, drawn by the scenic beauty, wide-open spaces and lack of traffic.

Any Nelspruit resident who spends more than 20 minutes commuting to and from work will complain bitterly. Crime, although ever-present, is not as in your face as in the country’s bigger centres.

Dictated by the weather, Nelspruit’s lifestyle can be summed up in one word: outdoors. Adventure sports, hiking, biking and golfing are high up on the agenda, as are conservation and nature. This is bush country and the locals are passionate about the outdoors.

It is also an affluent society and where there’s money, people will shop. Locals take great pride in their homes and a distinctive, chic ‘Lowveld look’ has developed over the years. With highly skilled furniture makers, craftsmen and artists moving to the area, the market is constantly injected with fresh ideas and sophisticated new trends.

Article from: