Good times still rollin'

Over the past few years Mpumalanga has drawn interest from investors as well as buyers looking for a quieter environment.

The town of White River with its laid-back lifestyle is getting a fair share of residents who commute to the mines in the area or to office jobs in Nelspruit and other nearby centres. The town, which has retained its village character, is just 35 kilometres from the Kruger National Park and enjoys a much cooler climate than nearby Nelspruit. It has all the conveniences of a big city in terms of shopping centres as well as quaint local specialty shops.

Plenty of activity in upper end of market

"The town is popular among city people wanting to escape the rat race and parents seeking good schooling options for their children," says Mark Pearce, principal of Realty 1 Lowveld office. "This has benefited the local property market in recent years and while property in the so-called 'affordable' price ranges is in big demand, there is also plenty of activity in the upper end of the market."

White River's Extension One is currently something of a 'hot spot' says Pearce. "Old houses are being upgraded and modernised and the asking prices are R1.8-million and more. The properties are close to schools and shopping areas and the stand sizes are over 1300m². The upper end is also active in Coltshill where two years ago the highest price reached was R1.15-million, but asking prices now range from R1.3-million to around R1.7-million."

Besides this, Pearce is finding strong demand for property in the R600 000 to R750 000 price range with White River's Kingsview Extension Three the most active in this market. "Family homes are in demand, as always, and we are looking at selling prices between R600 000 and R980 000," says Pearce, "with an emphasis on three bedrooms, two baths and a double garage-type home. The areas near schools are the most in demand."

Boom times not yet over

Sales prices are still way above the norm and sellers in the area seem to believe the boom times are not yet over. "Bank valuations are definitely lower than last year, though," he says. According to Deeds Office data, the average price of freehold transfers increased by just over 12 percent in the past two years, from R727 000 in 2006 to R818 000 in 2008.

A number of new developments are helping to provide stock in the affordable price range. The new Senator Park development comprises a total of 83 units with an entry level price of around R550 000. Legogote Heights has 33 units at the same price while Matsafeni Lifestyle apartments has 84 units going from R625 000. Most of these units have already sold and future phases are currently being considered.

The area is famous for having ample vacant land on which homeowners can build their dream house. "Fairlands Estate has 49 vacant stands selling from R498 000," says Pearce. White River has several unique lifestyle estates, each with its own character and selling features. The Royal Parklands is a Victorian-themed residential estate centred on a tranquil dam fed by three streams. The Bundu Rockies offers a wide range of resident species of game and is located between White River and Nelspruit. One hectare stands on these estates are priced upwards of R650 000.

Rental demand is also high and prices could go much higher due to limited stock

Rental demand is also high and he says rental prices could go much higher as a result of the limited supply of rental stock available. This trend is strengthened by a slowdown in developments entering the market and by the increasing affordability barriers resulting from the higher interest rates, transfer costs being excluded in approved bonds and the fear of higher rates and taxes.

White River falls under the Mbombela Local Municipality, which has recognized that a chronic shortage of water is a threat to future development of the area. This is especially true in respect of proclaimed township developments in Rocky Drift and White River, where current and potential demand exceeds supply

Over 4000 housing, business and industrial units are in the planning phase and with work currently in progress on a R91-million water augmentation programme that will enable developers to use water from the Crocodile River, future growth is a certainty.

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