Property value goes way beyond the fence, as the neighbourhood often says more than the house

It’s no coincidence that the best neighbourhoods with the best property values are generally the best kept, says Laurie Wener, managing director of Pam Golding Properties (PGP) in the Western Cape metro region.

“Raising values can be as straightforward as co-operating with your neighbours to keep the street clean, or not flouting the by-laws.”

The solution to degenerating suburban environments was found in the famous Broken Window Theory which was introduced in a 1982 study by American social scientists James Wilson and George Kelling and later applied by New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to revive decaying inner urban areas.

Wener says it’s about protecting and enhancing your investment.

“Many Cape Town homeowners spend a fortune on the interiors of their homes, and when the time comes to sell, they are surprised that they can’t reach their market price. A look at the surroundings of the house, even in high-value areas, can often point to the reason why a property is unattractive to buyers.

“A residential property is an entire package. Its external appearance, state of repair and the way it looks in context with its neighbours is the first impression buyers get. A house that’s shabbier than those around it, or even one that has been carelessly renovated can put people off before they even get to the front door. And if that’s the house next door to the one you want to buy – well it’s just as off-putting,” she says.

Adhering to municipal building regulations, removing litter and fixing what’s broken are the cornerstones of a stable neighbourhood. Even in Bishopscourt or Bantry Bay, an illegal construction, neglected pavement or shabby wall, broken windows, or a sagging gate can bring down the tone of the entire neighbourhood. Even a battered car parked at the roadside can kill a sale.

There are prime examples of how property values can soar when residents of an area start to improve the built elements and their surroundings. It’s no secret that some of today’s classiest, most sought-after suburbs in Cape Town were considered quite shabby a few decades ago. So what is it that brings an area out of the doldrums and turns Cinderella into the next best property proposition?

“It’s a sort of collective unconscious in a community and eventually it’s the first new brick in the wall that does it. Suddenly there’s a stirring, and in the beginning almost imperceptibly a new face emerges. Sometimes it’s just a tidier look as people buy the homes and instead of neglecting the streetside, they manicure the pavement, plant trees, paint the fences.”

In some suburbs it never happens, and Cape Town has a few of those. But if you take a place like Vredehoek and neighbouring Devil’s Peak as examples, the changes can be profound. Based on a community of tiny municipal ex-servicemen’s houses built after World War II, Devil’s Peak was not your first choice when looking for a place in the city only 20 years ago.

Then the rush to urbanise created a complete metamorphosis, as the little 40m2 houses suddenly, mushroom-like, sprouted extra floors and ground floor spaces that pushed the boundaries.

“Now the houses that sold for R350 000 15 years ago, are selling like hot cakes for over R3 million and more and the glossy faces of some of the showpiece streets rival traditional upmarket areas. And the innovative architecture, mothered by necessity, has created serried facades in streetscapes that look like a town planner’s dream of heaven,” says Wener.

The same has happened in the Atlantic seaboard neighbourhoods, like Green Point. New walls, planting, fresh frontages, rebuilds and neighbourhood renewal projects have enabled entire streets to reach their true potential as ocean-view mountainside mini-mansions worth many millions.

Southern suburbs areas such as Woodstock, Rosebank and the south peninsula, as well as parts of Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town, that may have once been considered shabby and dull, are now classified as trendy and desirable. This is reflected in the price growth of all these areas.

“And it all comes down to civic pride, respect for neighbours and a sense of responsibility to a community or the micro-environment in which people live. Neglect breeds neglect but, by the same token, sitting with the only shabby house in a street of pristine properties can be hugely motivating,” says Wener.

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