Ryk Neethling on Pearl Valley, Val de Vie and succeeding in property

The question faced by many sportsmen and women at the end of their competitive careers, is where to next? Very often this leads into the realms of celebrity dealings, and sporting off-shoots. The transition into a new chapter of their lives is sometimes met with great financial success, and sometimes it isn’t. Whatever the case may be, a successful career in sport does not always guarantee a successful career afterwards. Ryk Neethling, an Olympic gold medalist and South African swimming hero, is an athlete who has decisively taken his career into the world of property development, and seems to be making a sterling success of it. Ryk is the Marketing Director of award-winning Val de Vie Estate. The estate has just announced its expansion by buying into Pearl Valley Golf and Country Estate, and the surrounding land. Allowing the estates to leverage off of one-another’s unique offerings in the Cape, by providing home-owners access to a myriad of luxury lifestyle facilities. Based on the development that the company is pursuing it is certainly targeting the surge of the wealthy in the sought-after Western Cape region, which is much needed good news for business in South Africa. – LF

RYK NEETHLING: The combined offering between Pearl Valley and Val de Vie will be something that is really unmatched, we believe, anywhere else in the world, as well as being close to the international airport in Cape Town.  The bridge that we’re going to build over the Berg River really opens up the whole Stellenbosch market, which is very expansive, so we’re quite excited about that.  So far, we had about 130 sales last year and the majority of the people are from Gauteng – so it’s people moving down – and we see that continuing, especially with the political results from the recent elections.

LUCIENNE FERREIRA:  That’s very interesting, that you mention you’ve noted that the elections have had such a big impact on property sales in Val de Vie.

RYK NEETHLING:  Yes, we see people from Gauteng and more and more, from Durban as well that are moving here.  The breadwinner will still commute to Johannesburg or to Durban, but the family can stay in a very secure environment.  There are very good schools in the area, and they can go to work and not have to worry about safety.

LUCIENNE FERREIRA:  In terms of Val de Vie as an estate, for those of us who aren’t familiar with it, what does it offer?  How is that pairing going to add value to the market with the acquisition of Pearl Valley and the surrounding land?

RYK NEETHLING:  In Val de Vie, we have about 530 plots.  It’s a lifestyle aspect.  We have a full working wine farm on the estate as well.  We have about 100 stables with horses.  We have two polo fields.  We have a very nice indoor swimming pool.  It’s not built just for me.  Anyone can use it.  We have a very nice gym.  We have a preschool on the estate.  We have a restaurant with a clubhouse so really – everything for everybody.  We are surrounded by four different mountain ranges.  The new adventure sport is obviously for everybody to go mountain biking, so we’re ideally situated for that, and it’s just a very nice outdoor lifestyle.  We have about two kilometres of Berg River where you can do fly-fishing.  We have five lakes and about 30 hectares where it’s also stocked with fish.

Security is obviously the big thing, and then we feel that the recent acquisition of Pearl Valley Phase 2 – about 320 hectares – will give us access to one of the best golf courses in South Africa, without us actually having the golf course, and having the golfers walk in front of your house during the day.  We are very excited about that and Pearl Valley has a great brand as well, not just in South Africa but internationally, too.  I think that combined offering is just going to see this area become a very prominent player in the residential market.

LUCIENNE FERREIRA:  Absolutely.  I think we can both expect some property investors to find strong value there.  Cape Town in itself has a huge amount of value to offer.  Property prices are soaring.  Everybody wants a piece of it.  Can you tell us how much the acquisition was worth?

RYK NEETHLING:  Unfortunately, I can’t disclose that.

LUCIENNE FERREIRA:  I thought I would try.

RYK NEETHLING:  I know. It was a nice try.  The price that we paid compared to the value it’s going to unlock…you can’t compare that.  The value that this acquisition is going to unlock is just going to be incredible.  The sales are increasing.  We were talking about the off-ramps as well as the Berg River being included, and it’s actually going to flow through their space now.  It’s really a paradise for young families.  People maybe have a misconception too, that it’s not a place for swallows or for people to come and retire.  It’s actually a very young estate.  The average age is maybe 40/45.  As I said – young – but it also depends on your perspective.  We currently have 200 kids under the age of ten, on the estate so it’s really a paradise for young families.

LUCIENNE FERREIRA: Yes, it sounds like a great place to settle.  What I’m quite interested in, from the market transaction perspective is how did Val de Vie come to making the acquisition?  Is it part of the bigger growth strategy?  Is it leveraging on the fact that there is a middle-class sector boom in the country?  Was it something that was opportunistic?

RYK NEETHLING: No, I think the original developer always had expansion in mind.  If you look at the estate, all the common facilities such as the restaurant and the stables are built on the border of Pearl Valley. There’s also extra services on the sewerage, water, and electricity fronts.  This development is going to happen in phases and for the first couple of phases, we don’t have to upgrade any of the infrastructure, which is going to make it even more profitable.  We can take our time and develop this, as the market demands it.  We’re not going to release any product that’s going to compete with a different product that we have, so the first phases will be a bit smaller plots.  We’re looking at a retirement village as well, so our main goal is to ensure that the people, who bought here so far, can get capital growth on their investments and we hope that the different products will aid that.

LUCIENNE FERREIRA: It sounds like the group made a very strategic move.  One thing that people are very interested in, as much as the property boom is exciting and the investment aspect of it is exciting, especially with the pairing between Pearl Valley and Val de Vie…  How do you, South African swimming champion Ryk Neethling, fit into the operations at Val de Vie?

RYK NEETHLING: Many people think I’m just a ‘page face’ or an ambassador, but I’ve been involved with Val de Vie for almost six years now.  I became a shareholder about three years ago, and my portfolio is all the marketing.  We have an estate agency.  We have a development company – restaurant, wines, business, and events – so I do all the marketing for that. We’re negotiating a hotel deal as well, and we’re talking to a couple of private school groups, so that’s my role. After I graduated from university in America, I worked in commercial real estate developments and investments for three years, so that’s where my background in the property game comes from.

LUCIENNE FERREIRA: So it really sounds like you’re targeting that entire upper-middle-income sector group of properties, so that you can see the gains from all of the up and down swings in the market.  I was going to ask how you found yourself in property, but it seems as though it’s something you decided to do a while ago.

RYK NEETHLING: Yes, my father’s a property lawyer too, so it’s something I grew up with and I must say I’m really living my dream, to be able to live in this beautiful place, and to be able to do what I love as well.

House with gardens and Simonsberg