Rarefied Belfast air reels in investors

Belfast in Mpumalanga's trout belt is no longer only a preferred destination for flyfishermen  but is also reeling in investors who anticipate a bright future for the town.

Interest in undeveloped stands, especially, started picking up a year ago, explains Francois de Villiers, owner of the RealNet franchise for Belfast and surrounds, but has accelerated recently thanks to the announcement that a new high-altitude training centre for athletes at the Belfast dam will go ahead.

The R400m project is an initiative of the Mpumalanga government and is expected to draw local and overseas athletes who elect to train at high altitude for international events.

Investors expect that demand for rental accommodation will spike once the facility opens and are buying undeveloped stands with a view to building suitable units, says De Villiers.

And stands are very attractively priced at the moment, he adds. Prices have dropped dramatically since the recession and “burger erven” of 2855sqm are now available at prices of between R150 000 and R250 000, depending on location and municipal services. This contrasts sharply with prices that started at around R250 000 before the recession hit.

De Villiers says local building costs vary between R4500/sqm for basic structures and R5000 to R8000/sqm for luxury homes. Municipal rates vary between about R100 and R300 a month.

Current buyers are mainly investors from Gauteng who have spare cash for the 40% deposit that banks require before financing undeveloped land, or investors who can buy stands outright for cash. Some new residents in town are, however, also starting to invest in stands.

De Villiers adds that some investors also expect a growth spurt for the town thanks to the proposed expansion of local coal mines, which would boost employment, and consequently the demand for housing.

He underwrites this view and predicts that Belfast may indeed become a second Middelburg as far as industrial development is concerned.

"Concerns that mining activities might adversely affect the town's leisure and tourism sectors are probably misplaced since any expansion is limited to outlying areas because of sensitive and protected wetlands around the town," he says.

The wetlands, many of which feature typical Highveld fauna and flora, remain a tourist attraction, while the many fishing spots and lodges and other establishments catering for flyfishermen remain popular among enthusiasts from Gauteng, who can reach the town within two hours for a convenient weekend getaway.

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