Rosy outlook for Belfast properties

Francois de Villiers, owner of the new RealNet estate agency in town, says South Africa's growing demand for electricity has focused new attention on rich coal deposits in the area. "Although Belfast can by no means be seen as a typical mining town, employees and contractors at surrounding mines choose to settle here because of the established infrastructure and the quiet lifestyle," he says.

Demand for family homes are growing and demand for rental units currently outstrips supply. Investors are now active in the market, not only because of the ready supply of tenants, but also because prices are attractive following the recession.

Prices vary widely, depending on location and condition. Starter homes can still be had from about R350 000 while top properties fetch up to R2m.

Belfast has earned its stripes as one of the favourite trout destinations on the escarpment and the town boasts a thriving tourism industry with an assortment of guest houses in town and guest farms in the immediate vicinity.

Investment buyers are also still targeting leisure properties for own use while the crisp highveld climate draws a fair share of retirees.

De Villiers adds that a high altitude training centre just outside town has been mooted. "Increasing numbers of international athletes train in Belfast to prepare for big  competitions because high altitude training gives them an edge and a formal training centre would certainly enhance the town's attractions," he says.

The new RealNet office opened in August and De Villiers, a seasoned estate agent who  was born and bred in Belfast, says sales in the first few months of operation exceeded his wildest expectations. "Judging by the recent performance of the local market, I confidently expect a rosy future," he says. "We are slowly but surely leaving the ravages of the recession behind us and we are seeing a definite upward curve in sales."

The RealNet franchise includes surrounding towns such as Wonderfontein, Carolina, Badplaas, Waterval-Boven, Machadodorp, Dullstroom, Sycamore and Stoffberg.

"Our franchise area covers about 16 000 square kilometres and includes some of the most picturesque towns in the region. At the moment we field four qualified estate agents in Belfast and plan to open five satellite offices in neighbouring towns shortly," he says. His office is currently on a recruitment drive to staff satellite offices.

A strong farming community in the area supports the economy of local towns. The RealNet office will also serve this sector of the market. Farms with grazing sell at between R7000 and R10 000/ha, cropping land between R15 000 and R20 000/ha and farms with irrigation from R20 000/ha.

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