In which we learn about buying with your head, buying with your heart, finding the magic combination, and, well, how much we have to learn.
Defining What We Are Looking For
To begin our search for the perfect piece of paradise, we knew we first had to define what paradise meant to us. What exactly were we looking for?
At this point in our journey, we were looking at buying a piece of land with a few friends. Clubbing together meant we’d have a bigger budget to work with, and we’d be able to share the load in terms of building an off grid life from the land – our own little community.
The First List:
Our ideal property would:
– Be a minimum of 4 hectares
– Be less than one hour to a decent town with a hospital
– Be less than 3 hours to an airport
– Have sufficient water sources, ideally its own river or lake
– Have lots of trees and shade
– Have mountain views
– Have good, arable soil
– Be in a safe area with low crime (major factor here in SA)
– Whether it had buildings, and how many, would depend on the cost of the property (so the higher the cost, the more infrastructure it’d need to have for it to work for us)
Russ & I were pretty excited to get this ball rolling, and decided to start heading out to see areas ourselves and look at properties for sale to get a better idea of what was available. We got in touch with an estate agent who handled the Montagu/Swellendam areas in the Western Cape, and set up a weekend to go see some farms he had on his books.
We left Cape Town at 8.30am on Friday and drove to Montagu to meet the estate agent, Andrew, at a coffee shop for a chat, before he took us to see some properties. His brief from us had been a max amount we estimated we and our friends could potentially pool (must have buildings at max), min 4 hectares, must have own water source (river/spring/dam), must be at least 1 hr from hospital/town. We explain that our goal is self sustenance, so we’d want good land to grow food, bee keeping, chickens, and that we’d love to host retreats & getaways.
He was awesome – super honest & full of practical advice. He had a folder prepared of properties within our budget, including useful aerial shots showing the land boundaries. As we looked through it, he let us know if a property had water issues, or had been run down.
Andrew keeps bees (and mentioned he could get me hives for R650ea and would be happy to teach and help!) & free range chickens himself, as well as growing lucerne (alfalfa, sold for hay but is also medicinal for humans as a tea) and he seems to know absolutely everyone in town. Very cool connection to make on our day one recce! We spent the rest of the day looking at 5 different farms with Andrew, and finally, we checked into our accommodation for the night around 8.30pm, exhausted!
Montagu the town itself is beautiful – very well kept, very clean, booming tourism (accommodation signs everywhere). Big Spar, Shoprite, own hospital, fire unit with helicopters, etc. No informal settlements & hectic poverty disparity. Most farm labourers are housed on farms, and lifetime rights are not uncommon.
We didn’t see a single farm with burglar bars, security gates, barbed fencing – we literally just drove in to each of them (not even locked entrances to farms!). No crime & no land restitution claims.
One downside is that Montagu has been struggling with the drought & water is a problem in places. Rainfall has been much lower than usual (Andrew said last year he only got 16% of his usual annual). There are lots of mountain springs & boreholes & a free shared irrigation scheme between farms where each farm gets free water for x hours on x days, so they have made strong efforts to counteract the effects of the drought.
Buying with your Head
The very first property we saw on the first day ticked so many boxes. It was German owned and neat as a pin. Being the first place we had seen, we were both a little overwhelmed with all the things to think about and take in – neither of us managed to get a single photo!
On paper, it was an excellent choice. It already had solar, a borehole, spring water, crops being irrigated, two cottages being let out to guests – it really was ready for someone to walk in and take over.
But our hearts didn’t sing. We knew it’d be a low-risk, easy in – but it just didn’t feel right.
Buying with your Heart
Another property we saw that first day had every “no” you could think of on paper. We almost didn’t bother going to see it. It was a dilapidated dairy farm which had run out of both money and water – the land was dry and rocky, the buildings visibly worn down.
What do you know, we fell in love. It had the most incredible energy. The mountains surrounded the property like a giant hug. There was a river bed (now dry – but the imagination filled it in) running through one part of the land, with trees and grasses outlining its path – we could so easily see a camping area. We could picture it all – this place was perfect for an off grid healing retreat.
It was SO hard, but in the end we knew we would be heading for trouble with this property. It was definitely not a smart choice for us.
The Magic Combination
The next day, we set off bright and early once again, meeting Andrew at the Montagu farmer’s market. We took a stroll around the colourful market, grabbed hot cappuccinos from Andrew’s father-in-law’s stand and ate freshly made breakfast “roosterkoeks” (which the doggos also thoroughly enjoyed) to fortify us for the last property viewing.
As we drove out of Montagu and came around the other side of the mountain, we could see the land becoming greener. Such a short distance and such a huge difference! We passed Andrew’s farm, which was on the same road as the property we were going to view. The road connects Ashton to Swellendam, and apparently properties here are like “hen’s teeth”. Looking online on my phone, I found organic farms and even a healing retreat – nice area!
We pulled up at the property, and I couldn’t actually comprehend that THIS was the one we’d come to see. Andrew had certainly saved the best for last. It had everything we could have hoped for and was perfect for every dream we’d thought of. Of course, it was at the very top of our imagined budget (actually, quite a bit over, but who’s counting when you’re in love, amirite?).
The First Learning Curve…
I am so damned excited about this place that I want.it.now. Never mind the whole “let’s just go check things out” – I am ready to go to the bank and apply for the loan! The very next day I bombard our friends with descriptions and photos, I’m talking offers and splits and registering for VAT – lordy, I do know how to rush into things! When I make my mind up about something, I make it happen. I’m very lucky to have a partner who balances me out – Russ is much better with taking things slow and proceeding with caution.
Anyway, all my excitement turned out to be for naught.
If planning on buying property with friends, decide on budget AND TIME FRAME before you find a property you want to purchase. (Doh.)
As it turned out, none of our friends were quite able to match the budgets we’d imagined splitting – nor were any of them ready to make the move quite yet. In fact, they’d all been thinking about a time frame of several years. Right. Bugger. Back to the drawing board, then…
We learned so much in our first property recce. It gave us our first tangible taste of what was out there, and what just might be in store for us. We saw places that were perfect on paper, but we just couldn’t love. We saw places we loved, that would be a mistake to jump into. We found out we were missing valuable information from our planned partners in community.
And we realised, seriously, that we were very ready to do this.
If you’re ever in need of an amazing agent in the Montagu / Swellendam area, I really can’t recommend Andrew from Dries Barnard Properties enough. He truly goes above and beyond. Thanks for showing us your beautiful town Andrew, you’re one in a mil!