In the wake of the heartbreaking fire tragedy, which in the Knysna Municipality alone saw not only the loss of life but some 739 homes either totally destroyed and a further 280 damaged, (source Knysna Municipality Fire Disaster Damage), this indomitable community is already planning how to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives and their town. In Plettenberg Bay close to 100 infrastructures in total were destroyed or damaged.
“Everyone has been affected, either directly or through family, friends and colleagues who have suffered loss,” says Ling Dobson, Pam Golding Properties area principal, whose office manager, Shona Budden’s home was gutted. “Right now everyone is still in survival mode and doing everything they can to mitigate the situation and help, but it’s clearly evident that this life-changing disaster has drawn the community together and we are all motivated to rebuild and restore. An international client who only took occupation of a home on Simola Estate a few days before the fire has already visited our office wanting to make a further commercial investment!”
“I was excited to speak to one of the organisers of the Oyster Festival, who assured me that they were going to use this platform to re-launch our beautiful town. Wesgro has also committed huge financial support for the Oyster Festival. I have spoken to colleagues who have in recent years experienced fire damage and found they confirmed such positive attitudes. They have only seen positive growth.”
For example, in the small hamlet of St Francis Bay, Pam Golding Properties area principal Richard Arderne comments: “As we have learnt here in St Francis, disasters like fires can have some positive outcomes. Experienced in November 2012, ours was luckily very contained geographically and only lasted a few hours from late on a Sunday afternoon until late evening when the strong west wind died, and there were also no more houses left to burn, and only the sea ahead. Seventy-six houses were destroyed, which was significant for our small town”.
“There was a concern after the fire that prices would drop, particularly canal plot prices with quite a few coming on the market – but this didn’t happen. There was quite substantial trading in canal plots (21 plots sold, some more than once), but at prices about the same as before the fire, and since then prices have gradually increased. Some owners took the opportunity to sell their plots, and invest their insurance payouts elsewhere”.
“The building industry boomed, with 38 of the 76 houses already under construction or complete within 12 months. Construction obviously slowed after that, with 52 now complete. Somehow the activity sparked a revival in the property industry, not necessarily prices rising, but many buyers.”
Arderne says many of the St Francis Bay houses were due a major renovation, being somewhat dated in design. “The new houses have more modern lines. Understandably almost all have been re-built with tiles or shingles instead of thatch, and only one has been re-built with thatch. So the appearance of that part of the canals has changed to a more modern look. Although many miss the old thatch appearance, the much lower insurance cost, lower risk, and much warmer, better thermal qualities of tiles and modern-shingles have been preferred.”
Adds Dobson: “Based on all the calls we are receiving it is natural that the decisions to be made by home owners are very dependent on their individual circumstances, including their insurance cover. Prior to the fire Knysna had a shortage of rental homes, so currently everyone impacted by the disaster is scrambling to rent, which is likely to impact on rental prices due to the lack of available accommodation”.
“What is a fact is that this beautiful, globally renowned part of the Garden Route will retain its appeal for visitors and home buyers. In recent years there’s been a marked trend towards people from around the country relocating here for a better quality lifestyle on a spectacular coastline.”