Urbanists ignite a residential revolution

Gone are the days when the ideal upmarket Johannesburg home had a tennis court, swimming pool and vast, landscaped gardens. A new breed of developer known as “urbanists” are ushering in a residential revolution that is turning past housing trends on their heads and transforming once-shunned locations into hot properties.

Security considerations and the advent of disposable living are fuelling the new trends, which are attracting property investors and young home-buyers in droves.

In the Johannesburg CBD, residential units no larger than 36 square metres (the size of a double garage) are selling like hot cakes. The minimum selling price is around R350 000, with marginally larger penthouse apartments going for anything up to R1m.

Proving particularly popular are mixed-use precincts such as Maboneng in the city centre, which have trendy loft apartments on top and restaurants, retail stores, art galleries, gyms and tree-lined walkways below.

For residents, the attraction is the cosmopolitan ambience, good security and lock-up-and-go lifestyle. For investors, residential developments in the CBD offer opportunities not that easy to come by, such as Urban Development Zone (UDZ) tax incentives.

Through the UDZ scheme, government has for years been trying hard to convince investors to spend some of their money on urban rejuvenation. Until fairly recently, though, such investors were few and far between. Now, the prospect of generous tax incentives coupled with the other benefits that innovative inner-city developments offer, has made this kind of investment well worth the while.

For example, the CBD already has maximum zoning so developing property there has none of the delays associated with rezoning applications. Similarly, instead of building from scratch, the urbanists are gutting and refurbishing existing buildings.

Hence, the overall development time for the new-style inner-city developments is 12 to 18 months, compared with three to four years for off-plan developments.

Changes in urban lifestyle
It is not just in the CBD where the face of urban living is changing so dramatically. In the suburbs of Johannesburg too, particularly in Sandton, Morningside, Broadacres and Bryanston, there is a discernible trend away from the tennis court-and-swimming pool preference of previous generations.
City families are now opting for gated communities or smaller stands where they keep garden sizes to the absolute minimum, rather using as much of the land as possible to house their interior living space.

As with property trends in the CBD, this is being driven by rapidly changing urban lifestyles. City people are generally spending less of their disposable income on their gardens, and more on lifestyle-oriented activities such as gym memberships, health services and eating out.

Smaller properties that are closer together also reflect city families’ security concerns. There is supposedly safety in numbers and many people feel more secure living within earshot of their neighbours. Clustered living also gives people access to state-of-the-art security that they could otherwise not afford.

Like it or not, the urbanists are ushering in a new era where small equals secure and disposable living is hot.

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