The story of St Francis Bay. From disaster has come rejuvenation.

Journalism is a high pressured occupation. But it also gets into your blood. As a consequence, when many top professionals hit veteran status, they relocate to smaller centres. Often at the coast. My former boss at the SABC, Johan Pretorius, opted for Port Shepstone where he runs the South Coast Fever. A colleague from our Rand Daily Mail days, Bev Mortimer, chose St Francis Bay where she is writes and runs the Chronicle. In Bev’s  blog below she explains how her little town has been rejuvenated by a disaster that hit the national news networks. – AH     

By Bev Mortimer*

The idyllic Eastern Cape town of St Francis Bay has been experiencing a mini building and property sales boom since the beginning of the

Bev Mortimer of the St Francis Chronicle: The unexpected property boom triggered by the disastrous fire.
Bev Mortimer of the St Francis Chronicle: The unexpected property boom triggered by the disastrous fire.

year.

Seven months after the canal fires on 11 November 2012 that destroyed 76 houses, 21 houses are being re-constructed. All the burnt houses, bar five, were demolished.

St Francis Bay is rising from the ashes with new homes being built. The huge cash injection into the construction industry and allied trades was a necessity, says builder Arthur Joubert: “It was a tragic thing that happened but the resultant building boom has helped the town survive.”

Joubert and other builders point out that 2012 was a bad time for the building industry with many tradesmen considering relocating to Port Elizabeth before the fire occurred. But with the regeneration in the industry, St Francis Bay is reaping the benefits of the cash injection. Builders agree that “out of the bad, the good did come”.

“This building boom benefits all associated with the trade – there’s a spinoff to carpenters, plumbers, painters etc,” says builder Jean Hugo. “There is a lot of positivity in the industry and service suppliers are inundated with work. This naturally has a knock-on effect for all other businesses. The money is being spent in St Francis. So the whole town is benefitting.”

Hugo and Joubert are just two of the builders who are extremely busy right now. Both foresee much more work in the pipeline, some jobs dependent on tenders.

It is widely predicted that, going by current trends, in the next three to five years all those levelled plots in the sought after canal area of St Francis Bay will most likely have been rebuilt and the area will continue to reap the benefits.

Up at St Francis Links Golf Estate, Jeff Clause enthuses about the sales boom on this upmarket estate.  Clause says most of those buying are doing so to live and enjoy the golf estate and not for speculative reasons. “Prices achieved still make it a buyer’s market,” he says.

Clause reveals that St Francis Links now has an additional five homes under construction. A further nine sets of plans are already approved and four more sets of plans have been submitted.

On the property sales boom this year, estate agents are upbeat and delighted to be getting the same great response from their adverts and show houses as they did in the good years of 2004-2007. They are all in accord that “the bottom line is buy now.”

Chas Everitt’s Mary-Lou Neate says there has been a mindset change with regard to the purchase of vacant land in St Francis Bay.  “It is the first time in the past five years that purchasers are seriously considering the option of building their own homes instead of buying existing ones.   Why?  “It all has to do with price and value,” she says.

Neate says it is possible for purchasers to buy well positioned vacant land for as little as R200k/R250k and to build well within their means.  The majority of purchasers are looking for houses under R2m / R2,5m and these are in short supply.  In most cases the new owners will still want to embark on alterations and additions.

Neate, an experienced agent in the industry over the past 10 years, says the property market in St Francis Bay has been more positive in the last five months compared to the same period last year. “High-end investors are returning to the market. This is good news for owners and potential investors.

“Enquiries for second home investments and vacant land have increased. Recent sales reflect registrations at the higher end of the market showing an upswing and confidence in the area and we believe this will continue to improve as the year progresses,” Neate says.

Marsha Haupt from Links Living says the local housing market is gaining momentum at a steady, very positive pace. “House prices continue to rise and demand is increasing with consumer confidence moving back to property.

Haupt points out that with the low interest rates that continue to support the property market, it makes it affordable to most to obtain mortgage finance, thus creating positive activity that has been lacking for four years. She believes the coastal area of St Francis can most certainly look forward to a ‘booming’ second half of 2013 and a busy summer season.

Dane Shaw from Resort Estates also enthuses about the sales boom in the tiny neighbouring village of Cape St Francis. He says the Resort Estate has had four sales this year, with three of them in two days in July.  He believes the levies in the Resort’s security estate, with its own task force operating 24/7, offer the best value for money

Richard Arderne of Pam Golding Properties St Francis is also upbeat about the good sales this year. The St Francis office recently achieved one of the highest prices in recent years for an undeveloped erf – R1.2m!

Arderne, also an experienced agent in the area, says St Francis has seen transfers totalling over R170m for the first 6 months this year, including Cape St Francis and St Francis Links. “This figure is substantially higher than the last few years, and notably there have been 17 transfers over R3m, indicating that the top end of the market has picked up.

“The houses being built on the canals will bring a modern look to the village. All this action has resulted in St Francis Bay being in the spotlight which has alerted buyers to realising that perhaps this is the time to buy.”

Arderne adds that transfers in Cape St Francis totalled R20m, including a bulk sale of 12 St Francis Field plots for R5.7m, and six houses between R1.3m and R1.4m! “Transfers in St Francis Links totalled R10m, mainly plots, and three houses, between R1.1m and R2.6m.”

* Bev Mortimer, formerly with top national newspapers like the Rand Daily Mail and global news agency Agence France Presse, relocated to St Francis where she runs the local newspaper, the St Francis Chronicle.  

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