The Upper Houghton Residents’ Association website opens with the quote “Love thy neighbour as thyself, but choose your neighbourhood” (Louise Beal).
Leafy and well wooded Houghton has emerged as the number one neighbourhood of choice for a diversity of post-democracy prime residential property investors who have been moving house north of the Johannesburg CBD.
“So much so”, says luxury homes marketer Ronald Ennik, “that Houghton – and specifically Lower Houghton – has morphed into what could now be the most cosmopolitan top end suburb in South Africa.”
Once described by Britain’s Guardian newspaper as ‘the richest, most Jewish, most liberal constituency’ in South Africa, Houghton has deep roots in the country’s transformation. Its late iconic MP Helen Suzman was for many years the sole anti-apartheid voice in the pre-democracy Parliament.
“While Lower Houghton today remains a wealthy area, with a still-large Jewish profile, there has been a seismic shift in its demographics,” says the founder and CEO of Christie’s International-affiliated Ennik Estates.
“Not only that, there has also been a change in the dynamics of its once staid and predictable residential property market,” Ronald adds.
“Although the transformation has been under way for some time, it began to gain firm traction when Nelson Mandela first bought in the neighbourhood in the 1990s – and it has gathered momentum ever since.
“One of the most significant by-products of the process is an increased tempo of buyer interest, which is providing welcome (and profitable) sell opportunities for empty nesters and other traditionally long-term Lower Houghton homeowners who now wish to move on,” says Ronald.
“Given the higher demand, they can more readily unlock the value of their homes by selling and downscaling if they so wish – either within Houghton or elsewhere. Furthermore, they should be able to bank or invest a significant profit in the process,” he adds.
The first (Victorian- and Edwardian-style) homes were built in Houghton in the late 1880s and, for more for than a century afterwards, the suburb remained synonymous with large stands, tall trees and heritage homes, says Ennik Estates consultant Daniel Onay, who is a specialist marketer of Lower Houghton properties.
“However, the situation today is quite different” says Daniel, who brokered sales of over R75-million in the area in the past year.
“The trend in Houghton is increasingly towards community-type developments – which are happening by way of restoration and conversion; sub-division; as well as demolition and redevelopment…all made possible by the official sanction of the City of Johannesburg’s Regional Spatial Development Framework,” says Daniel.
He says the demand for clusters and townhouses, in particular, is running high.
“For example, an 850sqm cluster on a 1000sqm stand on Lower Houghton’s 1st Avenue was recently on offer at R11-million and was sold to a ‘newcomer’ buyer at a price close to that. Similarly, a 59sqm sectional title unit in a new development was bought for R440 000 in 2008 and was sold in 2012 for R665 000 – a premium of over 50 per cent,” says Daniel.
However, there is no free rein for investors and developers to do as they please, says Marcelle Ravid, the City of Johannesburg’s Ward Councillor for Houghton.
“Sub-division sizes are closely watched by the Lower Houghton Residents’ Association, who will object to applications below 1000sqm on an acre in the core of the suburb.
“According to the by-laws, property owners are obliged to maintain their properties in good order. The Residents’ Association is vigilant in its monitoring of abandoned properties in Houghton to ensure that they don’t become havens for vagrants and targets for illegal dumping,” says the Councillor.
Houghton’s biggest attraction for newcomer investors, says Ronald, is its proximity to some of the country’s best schools – including St John’sCollege and King Edward VII School (KES) for boys, and the Roedean private school for girls.
“Other big draw cards are the two prominent mosques in Lower Houghton, around which a large Moslem community has grown. The mosques have brought an added dimension to the spectrum of long-standing shuls and other places of worship in or adjacent to the area,” he adds.
“Additional attractions are the two golf courses (Houghton and Killarney) and The Wilds indigenous nature reserve. Together they continue to underscore Houghton’s position as one of Johannesburg’s greenest areas,” says Ronald.
Proximity to the M1 motorway and a Gautrain station, as well as the world-class Melrose Arch and Sandton shopping and financial nodes, completes the picture.
“All of these factors come together to reinforce Lower Houghton’s reputation as one of South Africa’s most aspirational addresses,” says Ronald.
“It is today the home turf of a truly Rainbow Nation community of captains of commerce and industry; entrepreneurs; leading figures in the medical and other professions; and senior officials in national and local government,” he concludes.