Investec betting on the fairway

Investec Property’s recent relaunch of the bankrupt Gardener Ross Golf & Country Estate, 14km north of Fourways near Centurion, seems a bit premature given the depressed state of the housing market.

But Investec’s strong balance sheet no doubt allows it to take a longer-term view. Golf estate developers, in particular, have been badly burnt in recent years. Most won’t touch new residential projects.

Gardener Ross, renamed Copperleaf, was one of a number of golf estates financed by Investec during the boom years that went belly-up when the recession hit. The Ernie Els-designed Highland Gate Golf & Trout Estate in Dullstroom was the first to be placed in provisional liquidation. The estate went under the hammer in May 2009 but there were no takers at the time. Investec was owed R160m at Highland Gate. The group ended up spending more on completing and maintaining the golf course. A similar approach was adopted with other struggling estates that Investec was exposed to, including Gardener Ross, which Investec bought back in from suspended AltX-listed Pinnacle Point and The Hills in Pretoria.

Two more Pinnacle Point golf estates on which Investec was collectively owed about R80m — Clarens Golf & Trout Estate in the Free State and Pinnacle Point in Mossel Bay — were recently placed in provisional liquidation. Investec also has an estimated R250m exposure to Nondela Drakensberg Mountain Estate near Harrismith, developed by the controversial Zunaid Moti.
The group was recently able to recoup some of its capital by selling both Highland Gate and The Hills for an undisclosed price. But Investec is holding on to Copperleaf with its Ernie Els-designed golf course.

“We believe Copperleaf offers good turnaround potential. It’s a quality product and its location between Johannesburg and Centurion makes it a viable primary home destination,’’ says Raymond Hofmann, who manages Investec Property’s golf estate portfolio. Most other Investec-financed estates are located in second-home destinations. Stands are affordably priced from R375000.

Hofmann concedes that Investec Property would not have stepped into the golf estate market now were it not for the fact that it inherited the half-completed estate two years ago. The group spent around R50m on completing a new clubhouse and other leisure facilities to help reposition Copperleaf as a familyorientated lifestyle estate.

“But it’s never easy to time your entry into the property market perfectly. Besides, we’re not looking to sell all 500-odd stands within a year. We’re taking a fiveyear view,’’ says Hofmann.

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