March 20, 2019

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House Hunting in … South Africa

House Hunting in … South Africa
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This five-bedroom, five-bath contemporary ranch is in Umhlanga Rocks, a development in the seaside resort town of Umhlanga, about 10 miles north of the port city of Durban, on South Africa’s eastern coast.

The 13,454-square-foot house, completed in 2015 on a half-acre lot inside the eco-friendly, 157-acre Hawaan Forest Estate community, faces the Hawaan Forest, a protected remnant of a coastal dune forest dating back more than 18,000 years. To protect the forest’s birds and wildlife, no pets are allowed in the community, said Anni Eisele, a licensed agent with Seeff Properties, which has the listing. Gardening is strictly indigenous; homeowners choose from 600 approved plants for landscaping.

A path from a brick-paved circular driveway leads to the U-shaped house, with the entry hall at one corner. Through sliding glass walls and Mediterranean stack-back shutters, the layout embraces a center lawn, wood decks, a swimming pool and a hot tub. An eight-car garage and a generator are on the lower level.

To one side of the entry hall, a dining room, family room and kitchen are artfully divided by partial walls resembling a series of oversized picture frames. The ceiling is vaulted with exposed wood beams and louvered transom windows. Flooring is an oyster-hued tile.

“It is a big, beautiful, open entertainment area,” Ms. Eisele said.

Down another wing is a powder room, a guest bedroom with an en suite bath and a playroom opening to a side deck with a built-in trampoline.

The main living room has a cocktail bar, a fireplace and a circular staircase leading down to the wine cellar. The living room also steps down to a covered outdoor lounge with multiple skylights and a dining terrace with a barbecue, a pizza oven and a large seating area.

The kitchen has wood-grain finish cabinets with white Caesarstone counters. Stainless-steel appliances include a range hood, a Smeg microwave, a warming drawer, eye-level and under-counter ovens, and a five-burner gas cooktop. Glass sliders open to an outdoor breakfast terrace.

Beyond the kitchen is a separate scullery for washing dishes, a walk-in pantry and a laundry room. Staff quarters, with a separate entrance into the house, include two bedrooms, a bath and a kitchen/lounge.

Three family bedrooms and the master suite, each with laminate wood-paneled floors and an en suite bath, are clustered in a wing at the far end of the house. Each has access to the yard, an AstroTurf soccer practice area, a children’s den, a library, a gym and an atrium. The master suite, opening on two sides to the pool deck, includes a separate office and a dressing room. The master bath has a double-size shower, a free-standing whirlpool tub and a vanity with two sinks.

Umhlanga, with about 24,000 residents, basks in a year-round balmy climate on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Its gold-sand beaches and warm ocean waters are popular with swimmers, snorkelers and whale and shark watchers. The town is also known for the Gateway Theatre of Shopping, whose nearly 400 shops and 70 dining spots make it one of the world’s largest malls.

The property is about a 15-minute drive up the coastline from Durban, South Africa’s third-largest city, which is known for its busy ports and extensive beaches. King Shaka International Airport is another 10 miles north.

Durban and the north coast is “one of South Africa’s hot spots,” Ms. Eisele said. The market has had “continual positive growth” since just before 2000, with “an average growth over the past five years of around 8 percent.”

In recent years, the local housing market has remained resilient despite political and economic challenges, Ms. Eisele said, noting that “people are flocking to buy over here.”

Durban, with 595,000 residents and an oceanfront promenade, as well as upmarket Umhlanga and areas north, like the Sibaya Coastal Precinct, are “the Florida of South Africa,” she said, attracting developers, investors and homeowners seeking vacation and retirement properties.

“We have a fantastic infrastructure, a magnificent climate and a majestic coastline,” Ms. Eisele said.

Gated, secure estate communities and beachfront homes dominate the market with the highest growth and demand.

The market is getting an extra boost from Cape Town (which is over 1,000 miles away on South Africa’s west coast), where real estate became “too expensive” and a longstanding drought caused a severe water shortage last year, said Manny Testa, the principal and CEO of the Umhlanga and Durban North franchise of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty. Umhlanga is becoming South Africa’s “new premium real estate area” for holiday homes, he said.

Near the Gateway shopping center, apartments sell for 950,000 rand (about $65,800), while a three-story penthouse on the beach might fetch 60 million rand ($4.2 million). A three-bedroom beachfront apartment in a well-managed condominium goes for about 4.4 million rand ($305,000), Mr. Testa said.

With national elections scheduled in May, Mr. Testa anticipates a busy January for six-month rentals, but expects it “to be quiet” for buyers.

“Another party could become the ruling party,” Mr. Testa said. “People are holding off to see what happens.”

Beachfront three-bedroom, two-bath apartments with two garage spaces rent for between 25,000 and 40,000 rand ($1,700 to $2,800) a month, depending on condition, Mr. Testa said. Farther from the beach, average rentals are about 20,000 rand ($1,400) monthly.

Carol Reynolds, the North Durban area principal of Pam Golding Properties, said buyers are also drawn to Durban and the north coast by “excellent schools, very little traffic congestion” and proximity to the beach. Families are also relocating from Johannesburg to Umhlanga, with the breadwinner frequently commuting by air — a one-hour flight, she said.

Residential price growth “has been stronger than Cape Town and Johannesburg,” Ms. Reynolds added. “It is definitely the new flavor of the month for South Africa.”

Many buyers in the Durban area are from other parts of South Africa, including locals moving from one suburb to another. Overseas buyers are often employees of international corporations, Ms. Eisele said.

European buyers hail mainly from the Britain, Germany, France, Holland, Belgium and Greece. Buyers also come from Taiwan, China, the United Arab Emirates and India, agents said.

Medical doctors from Ghana and Nigeria “come with work permits” and buy “very expensive” villas, Mr. Testa said. Although the American market is largely untapped, Mr. Testa’s recent buyers included a returning expatriate who spent 10 years in the United States and a professional American couple retiring in Umhlanga.

Foreigners are welcome to buy in South Africa, but while locals can get 100 percent financing, foreign buyers are entitled to mortgages up to 50 percent of the home price.

Conveyancers, lawyers who specialize in property transfer, are selected by the seller but represent both parties. The buyer pays their fees.

English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa, among others; South African rand (1 rand = $0.07)

Property taxes on this house are 10,000 rand a month ($692), or about $8,300 a year, Ms. Eisele said. Homeowners association levies run 5,850 rand ($405) monthly.

Transfer taxes are based on a sliding scale but average about 8 percent of the purchase price. On this house, they would be 240,000 rand ($16,600).

Anni Eisele, Seeff Properties, 011-27-82-572-3288, seeff.com

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