Increasing demand for well-priced property in "sleepy" Pietermaritzburg

Pietermaritzburg, playfully dubbed “Sleepy Hollow” by residents, is often dismissed as Durban’s less-prestigious sibling city. Its position as administrative capital of KwaZulu-Natal, combined with its importance as an industrial hub for the aluminium, timber and dairy industries, has never quite managed to overcome its reputation for being a small town in a city’s disguise.

Nonetheless, Pietermaritzburg is renowned for inspiring a deep loyalty in its long-term residents, while also attracting increasing numbers of new professionals and families looking to escape the big city rush.

“The quality of the schools, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the thriving industrial sector means Pietermaritzburg will always have a draw-card to attract new families and professionals,” confirms Mark Truter, the Rawson Property Group’s Pietermaritzburg Townbush Road franchisee. “That’s great news for the property market,” he explains, “because it means the value of property is expected to remain healthy.”

Properties in Pietermaritzburg are as varied as its population, ranging from bachelor apartments catering to student budgets to sprawling family mansions that have been passed down through numerous generations.

“Tradition does play a role in people’s property choices here,” Truter admits, citing the comradery of the “Old Boy’s Club” of Pietermaritzburg’s residents. “There are a lot of people who grew up in the area, attended one of the world-class schools nearby, and are now raising their own families in the same suburbs they’ve lived in all their lives.”

The more traditional, large, family properties tend to be found in the Northern Suburbs, including Montrose, Oak Park and Chase Valley. “The area has a parkland feel to it and is surrounded by forests, with properties ranging from 1500m2 to 1900m2 in size,” Truter describes. “Most of the houses have been renovated to luxury standards,” he adds, “and prices are generally upwards of R2.5 million.”

Not all properties in the north are huge family homes, however, and Truter has noticed an increase in demand for complexes in the area. “This is partially because of older folk downscaling, but wanting to remain close to the rest of their family,” he says, “but it’s also because of the influence of Grey’s Hospital. As a teaching hospital, it brings around 120 new interns into the area every year. For them, living nearby is the ultimate convenience.”

The well-regarded University of KwaZulu-Natal also brings its share of students to Pietermaritzburg. “Scottsville is very popular with UKZN students,” says Truter, “and a lot of the homes in the area have cottages which the owners rent out. This has actually become a dominant factor in purchase decisions in the area,” he reveals, “since the rental income is a great way for owners to offset their costs. Scottsville is an excellent suburb for buy-to-let investment purchases as well,” he points out. “The constant flow of students means there’s always a demand for affordable apartments.”

“Younger, smaller, mid-income families tend to prefer suburbs like Hayfields,” Truter continues, “where a standard three bedroom, two bathroom family home on about 1200m2 will generally cost under R1.8 million. There are more affordable gated townhouse complexes here as well,” he notes, “and demand for these kinds of properties continues to increase.”

According to Truter, reasonably-priced downscaling options and mid- to upmarket gated community properties are the darlings of the property market across most of Pietermaritzburg at the moment. “Buyers are making educated buying decisions,” he explains, “and are dedicated to ensuring their purchases will meet their needs in a very specific price range. There have been cases where upmarket properties have sold very quickly as well,” he admits, “but this has invariably been due to their position, and not their price.”

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