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No longer is a move out of Cape Town or Joburg to smaller cities considered ‘trading down’. Rather, it represents a bold and progressive decision to seek a better quality of life, often in more scenic locations where the price tags on homes are less likely to break the bank.

WORDS: SUPPLIED – IMAGES: SHUTTERSTOCK

Far from posing a threat to the longevity of the country’s biggest cities, the expert view is that the population outflow from large, first-tier cities, and consequent inflow into smaller, second-tier cities, is a positive indicator of balanced and integrated regional development.

Considering the Covid-19 reality, property experts suggest that second-tier cities, along with other attractive low-density options, will grow in popularity thanks to the fact that these offer not only urban convenience, but also the kind of lifestyle that better lends itself to physical distancing.

Executive chief economist at Alexander Forbes Investments Lesiba Mothata says he believes the full potential of second-tier cities in South Africa has yet to be harnessed, despite the fact that these could be the perfect catalyst for much needed economic growth.

The suburbs re-emerge

Mothata believes smaller pockets of economic and industrial growth are waiting to be uncovered in second-tier towns like Kimberley, Bloemfontein, Polokwane and Port Elizabeth.

In Gauteng, burgeoning areas like Midrand will become even more popular, while the Winelands and False Bay in greater Cape Town are also garnering great interest.

Along the Garden Route, second-tier cities like Port Elizabeth, Plettenberg Bay and George are also raising the residential bar by offering a safe, convenient lifestyle in a scenic – and affordable – coastal location.

Questions being asked include why Port Elizabeth shouldn’t be transformed into southern Africa’s car manufacturing powerhouse, for example, or why Mbombela (Nelspruit) can’t be developed into a retail and agricultural export hub that would earn it the status of the Dubai of Africa.

The Amdec Group, a leading developer, is currently building a connected neighbourhood in Port Elizabeth. River Dale is the second of nine villages which are part of the 128ha Westbrook development – a direct response to the spike in demand for housing in this second-tier city.

Quality of life

The Covid-19 pandemic has served to emphasise the fundamental importance of location, accessibility and convenience when it comes to property investment, a further factor behind the increased interest in such cities.

The desirability of the Westbrook mega-estate was exemplified during the height of the national lockdown, when residents enjoyed the benefits of living, working and exercising within an enclosed, access-controlled, fully secured, sanitised environment.

“Now, more than ever, professional proactive property management where safety, security, cleanliness and hygiene are paramount, will be a key differentiator for both homeowners and tenants who are searching for affordable homes in second-tier cities,” says Clifford Oosthuizen, managing director, Westbrook Property Developments.

Living through a national lockdown, buyers are drawn to investment options such as residential estates that offer plenty of space, he says.

“Added value comes from having communal gardens and parks, along with sporting facilities. And, on top of that, people can walk or ride their bikes or scooters without having the expense of owning and maintaining a car.”

Remote working

Oosthuizen points out that the shift to remote working, precipitated by Covid-19, has given South Africans yet another reason to consider a move to second-tier, cheaper cities, where they can enjoy a better quality of life without sacrificing job opportunities.

“If you can live anywhere, it makes more sense to live somewhere that’s less expensive. A lower cost of living makes it easier for newcomers to enjoy the urban experience in this next tier of cities, whether they’re renters or homeowners,” he says.

This is where secure lifestyle estates like Westbrook come to the fore. As they evolve, these multi-generational estates found in second-tier cities across South Africa are embracing more investment brackets, offering a free-standing home of three to five bedrooms at anywhere from R1,2m upwards.

Whether opting for a smaller city for a job or for a change in lifestyle, South Africans are finding themselves spoilt for choice.