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Urban vs suburban living: how to choose

Most people believe it is cheaper to live in the suburbs than in the city, but this is not always true, says David Jacobs, northern region and KZN manager for the Rawson Property Group.

“It very much depends on which suburb you choose, what type of home you buy and what sort of lifestyle you are looking for. Buy an apartment within walking distance of the Sandton commercial centre in Sandown, for example, and you can expect to pay an average of R2.2 million, with a monthly bond repayment of around R17 600 after you’ve paid a 20 percent deposit.

“Your transport costs will be negligible if you can walk to work and just about everywhere else you want to go. However, property rates, utilities and your sectional title levy will add another R2 500 to R3 000 to your monthly accommodation expenses, bringing the total to at least R20 100.”

In comparison, he says, the prices of apartments further from the commercial centre, but still within a 10km radius and accessible by public transport, range from an average of R1m in Woodmead all the way up to an average of R2.8m in Hyde Park, according to property data company Lightstone.

“However, the average price in the most favoured areas of Illovo, Morningside and Parkmore is about the R1.6m, with a monthly bond repayment of R12 800 after paying a 20 percent deposit. Then the additional total of municipal rates, utilities and sectional title levy will probably be around R2 500, while transport will add at least another R500 a month, taking the comparative total for the same type of accommodation to R15 300.”

On the other hand, if your plan is to move from a city apartment to a freehold home in a suburb not more than 10km from the centre of Sandton, the average price you can expect to pay will range from around R2.75m in Woodmead and R2.8m in Parkmore, to R3.7m in Morningside, R4.2m in Bryanston, R7m in Inanda and R8m in Hyde Park.

And in that case, says Jacobs, you can expect a monthly bond repayment of at least R22 000 after payment of a 20 percent deposit, at least R3 500 a month for property rates, utilities and homeowners’ insurance, plus your transport costs, bringing the total to at least R26 000 a month.

“Clearly then, living in the nearby suburbs will be cheaper – although less convenient – if you stick to apartment living, but substantially more expensive if you switch to a house, although you will of course gain more living space and a garden in return. And while living further away may reduce the home loan component of your monthly costs, this saving is very likely to be offset by a much longer and costlier commute to work, unless you have a home-based business.”

What is more, he says, the pattern is pretty much the same for homebuyers in all income groups.

“Our calculations show that if you were to buy a flat in the Johannesburg city centre or Braamfontein, for example, your monthly accommodation and transport costs would average a total of around R9 000.

“The comparative monthly total for a flat in an affordable suburb within a 10km radius and accessible by public transport – such as Melville, Richmond, Westdene or Kensington – would be around R7 000, and the total for those who choose a freehold home in these areas would be around R14 000.”

However, says Jacobs, cost should not be the only factor when it comes to making a choice between the city and suburbs. Others include:

*A preference for the variety of social and cultural activities that are generally only to be found in an urban centre. If you like trendy restaurants and clubs, the latest movies, concerts, galleries and the theatre, the city centre is probably the place for you.

*A strong aversion to commuting and the time it takes, especially if you have to use your own vehicle, sit in traffic every day and pay for parking while you work as well as petrol, maintenance and toll fees.

*The opportunity to live close to one or more good government schools that your children can attend, so that you don’t need to pay for private schooling. This is a major plus for the suburbs, especially if you can live in an area that is also close to a university or other tertiary institutions.

*The opportunity to get much more house for your money and plenty of space for children and pets to play as well as the peace and privacy of having your own garden.

*Your personal preference for an older and possibly more spacious apartment or house in an area of older homes that are in the process of being renovated and modernised, or for a newly-built home incorporating all the latest design ideas and smart technology.

“There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Homebuyers need to carefully evaluate the areas they are considering in terms of their own finances and lifestyle preferences, and make the choice that is best for them,” says Jacobs.


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