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WATCH: Demand for properties in smaller towns could outstrip supply as more people opt to work from home

Remote working has employees questioning why they still live in or near cities. Picture: Chuttersnap/Unsplash

Remote working has employees questioning why they still live in or near cities. Picture: Chuttersnap/Unsplash

Published Mar 10, 2022


Continuing work-from-home practices are shifting residential real estate trends as property markets respond to new demands from buyers and tenants.

Even hybrid work approaches, involving a mix of office and home working, are affecting where people want to live and the types of homes they want to live in.

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Remote working might not be a new movement to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, as it was already growing pre-2020, but the lockdowns boosted this trend – and it looks set to remain the preferred method of working for many companies across the globe.

As a result, people now have more freedom and choice when it comes to lifestyles and where they want to live.

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Homeowners and tenants who work from home now find themselves able to move away from their homes, metros, and even provinces, as they no longer need to drive to their offices daily.

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Those who are still required to occasionally go into work might have less of a choice but many are still choosing to do two or three long commutes a week so they can live in smaller towns, away from the hustle and bustle of commercial hubs and the surrounding areas.

Carl Coetzee, chief executive of BetterBond, says buyers' needs have changed and more people are semigrating to the coast or smaller towns where they can work remotely and enjoy a better quality of life.

“This trend is expected to bolster buyer activity over the next few months, notwithstanding the gradual rise in interest rates.”

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The Western Cape has seen the bulk of this semigration as residents and homeowners from other parts of the country, and within the province, relocate to its coastal towns.

Steve Thomas and Dave Burger, secure estates specialists for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Constantiaberg, experienced the “busiest December in almost 20 years”, with the constant stream of enquiries spilling over into January.

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“Most buyers in our area are buying into the Cape Town lifestyle and the close proximity to a host of amenities such as golf courses, mountain bike and hiking trails, beaches and sailing.

“The increase in the secure environment trend is partly driven by the growing number of families who are relocating for a favourable lifestyle but where the husband or wife has to regularly commute to another city.”

Echoing this, Berry Everitt, chief executive of the Chas Everitt International property group, says gated lifestyle estates in and around the big metros have been finding favour again over the past two years.

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This is thanks to remote working and online education which mean many residents no longer have to worry about daily commutes in traffic to an office or their children’s schools.

“In addition, many estates now have back-up power, water and internet systems that often enable residents to avoid the worst of the Eskom and municipal supply interruptions.”

According to a blog from the DMP Property Group, remote working has employees questioning whether they live in city centres because of the community or because it is convenient for their jobs.

“With long or traffic-heavy commutes no longer an issue, suburbs outside the city centre are growing in popularity. “You’ll find lower rentals and greater value for money without the price surge related to location popularity,” it says.

Jacqui Savage, national rentals manager for the Rawson Property Group, believes the demand in the so-called ‘Zoom towns’ could begin to outstrip supply in the coming year.

“We’ve seen an amazing about-face in demand, thanks to Covid and work from home,” she says. “Where metros were once thriving rental centres, we’re now seeing properties in small towns – particularly on the coast – flying off the metaphorical shelves.”

With commute times no longer an issue, she says people are clearly choosing quality of life over city proximity.

Home features

Remote working has also altered what features people are looking for, or need, in their homes.

While many remote workers are happy to log in from their kitchen counter, the DMP group says an increasing number of people are searching for a dedicated home office.

“It’s a productive space away from personal distractions, where you can take uninterrupted Zoom calls without having to push dirty dishes out of camera view.

“At the end of the day, you can even shut the door which makes it easier to separate home from the office.” People also want more space because they are spending more time at home.

“You’ll find that families, and homes with multiple remote workers, feel the pull heavily as they compete for quiet and space around the house.

“Moving to a more cost-effective neighbourhood means you’ll get more space for your money which is a win-win for everyone.”

Yael Geffen, chief executive of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty, says it is no longer enough for homes to only be ideal places to live; they must also be places where people can work, where their children can learn and, increasingly, where multiple generations can live together.

“However, most people prefer not to be sequestered away all alone in individual rooms so, instead of open-plan design, think broken-plan layouts that distinguish between living and working spaces and provide opportunities for both communal use and privacy.”

There is also a growing demand for dedicated rooms for specific functions, she says.

“The home office has become indispensable and will remain high on home owners’ priorities lists, however, going forward, we will see rooms dedicated to specific purposes rise further up the wish list.

“We’re starting to see gyms, spa bathrooms, meditation rooms, wine rooms, and even larger storage rooms, make their way onto the list of must-haves and many new-construction clients are requesting specialised spaces that minimise the need to leave home,” Geffen says.

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