Approximately 30 minutes from Cape Town, Somerset West has long nestled quietly under the Helderberg Mountains and under the radar of property buyers. This little-known gem is rapidly attracting a new cohort of buyers, in both the residential and investment markets. One of the newer and more attractive developments taking advantage of the Somerset West boom is Somerset Lakes.
Consisting of 67 hectares of former farmland, this active lifestyle estate combines the best of outdoor living with security and convenience. Extensive stands of stone pines were left to create a forest feel, and a storm water retention pond was re-sculpted and repurposed into the picturesque six-hectare lake that lies at the heart of the estate.
These natural elements are crucial to the lifestyle element; there are biking and running trails, an outdoor gym area, a foefie slide and kid’s adventure zone in the forest, and the lake is a non-motorised watersports paradise. Kayaking, supping, fishing and sailing are very popular, and kids just love mucking about feeding the ducks, looking at birds and other aquatic life. The regular pilates and yoga sessions outdoors – usually in the forest – contribute to, and complement, the overall serenity.
The development was started in 2011 as a partnership between Investec Private Bank, Wiehahn Properties and Omnigro (Pty) Ltd. The initial intention was to build quite high density units but, even before construction started, it seemed that the market would be more receptive to a greater mix, and to larger, higher-value homes. The developers therefore, decided to do apartments for Phase One, townhouses for Phase Two, townhouses for Phase Two, and freestanding homes for Phase Three, thereby taking advantage of the natural price sensitivity of the different home styles.
Right at the beginning, there was no landscaping in place and not much to actually see, but by using a bit of imagination, more price-sensitive buyers could reap the financial advantage of buying on faith and have seen fantastic returns for doing so. Phase One was Brookdale, which comprises 114 luxury apartments. Selling off-plan, it sold out in six weeks, and occupation was in August 2015. Construction of the clubhouse started along with Phase Two, Waterford Green, which consists of 46 freestanding, double-storey townhouses. This proved to be very popular and units that where sold off- plan are now reselling at about a 20 -25% premium or garnering nett rentals of about 8.5% per annum. Phase Three, Heron’s Rest, consists of 42 freestanding three-bedroomed homes ranging in size from 212m² to 390m².
After the success of the first three phases, the pace of construction stepped up considerably, fuelled by a consistently high level of sales from plan. When completed, Plover’s Rest will consist of 128 freestanding, double-storey townhouses, and the now sold out Kingfisher Terrace’s 51 luxury garden cottages. Stone Pine Place, which looks out onto the Six hectare stand of eponymous trees will consist of 103 two three and four-bed family homes ranging in price from R 2 million to R 4.7 million.
The flagship development, The Lakes, will comprise 58 luxury homes in carefully selected positions to capitalise on views of the lake, the mountains and the forest.
All sales are handled in house, and financing is facilitated through BetterBond. Property sales require a deposit of R25 000 to reserve your unit and then require the balance to be secured within 30 days, subject to bond approval or guarantees. From signing to moving in usually takes about 12 months. There is one overall Master HOA, and each phase also has its own independent HOA.
When complete, the estate will have 800 residential units of the various styles, catering to different market sectors. There are two construction teams – Group Five and Manor Homes. Water is, of course, a challenge, but both teams bring in their own water for construction. All plans are done by Schabort Associates Architects, who have been with the project from inception.
So far, the clubhouse has been built, with a restaurant that is open to the public, and a 5.29ha site has been earmarked for a mixed-use commercial development comprising retail, entertainment and office space. It’s foreseen that many of the existing and future residents will utilise the commercial development as well – both in the retail and office sectors – as many are self-employed or run small businesses. Interestingly, the restaurant at the clubhouse is run by a resident. In fact, the whole estate has already developed a strong community feel, which may be in part because the developers have chosen to live here as well. While Somerset Lakes is not marketed as an eco-estate, the developers are well aware of the rapidly increasing demand for sustainable housing, so they have hit on a very clever compromise. Because greener options are still a tad on the pricey side, and the market is price sensitive, the units are plumbed and wired for solar water heaters, photo-voltaic cells and grey water systems. Homeowners can choose to have these elements built in, or they can install them later without incurring the expenses usually associated with retro-fitting. Rainwater tanks are not included as standard, but are encouraged.
Landscaping is done with mostly indigenous water-wise plants, with an onsite nursery and a strong borehole for watering. Special permission was granted to build the pool at the clubhouse, although it has to be filled with bought-in water. Residents can choose to have private pools but – with the present water restrictions – they can be planned for, and the plans will be approved, but they may not be built until some time in the future when Cape Town is feeling a lot more water-secure.
Connectivity is almost as essential as electricity and water reticulation, so the developers have installed their own open access fibre system. This enables residents to choose their service providers, so they are not held hostage to one supplier who can just increase prices at will. As there is one satellite dish for the entire estate, residents can save on individual satellite installation, which is also an aesthetic advantage. Fibre is also central to the security system.
Security is taken very seriously. The electric fence is set in concrete, to repel tunnellers, and every 50 metres there are zoned CCTV cameras, with trip wires, which are monitored both on-site and off. There are regular guard patrols, and access is biometrically controlled. It should be noted that Somerset Lakes has not had a single incident to date.
While there is a significant proportion of buy-to-rent investors, says Stefin Strydom, who is sales manager at the estate, there is also a surprising number of empty-nest downscalers, even though they have not specifically targeted the retirement market. However, the bulk of purchases are buyers with young families.
The wide open spaces, the lake, the forest, the playparks, and the fact that kids can cycle or skate to their friends’ houses, look at birds, fish in the lake, or paddle all play a part. The secure environment makes seasonal playfulness like Easter egg hunts, and Halloween trick-or-treating safe.
The popular Reddam House School secured a large stand early on, and has built an established primary and high school and boarding house with cricket oval, tennis courts, indoor aquatics centre, pavilion and rugby fields under construction. It’s part of the estate, but with separate access for security. They naturally have a close relationship; they do cross-country runs through the estate, or take learners around the forest or around the lake for mini field trips. Curro, too, have secured a site on the northern perimeter of the estate, but have yet to commence construction.
The estate is clean and modern, with uncluttered landscaping, and extensive vistas. While each section has its own aesthetic, the overall architectural style is Rural Cape vernacular, which is appropriate for an estate that is situated on the edge of the Cape Winelands, but that does not overly emphasis the connection. Somerset Lakes is all about creating a secure environment for a happy, healthy outdoor lifestyle and residents – whether aged eight or 80 – can enjoy a romp (or stroll) through the forest or a float on the lake, or just gaze at the scenery and admire the prolific bird life.