With level-3 water use restrictions in place and hefty fines for those who fall foul of the law, Cape homeowners are experiencing the full heat of the province’s ongoing drought. Indeed, savvy sellers who foresaw the looming crisis and implemented water-saving solutions ahead of time are already seeing an increase in the marketability of their properties, say estate agents.
“One of the first things our clients ask after is the existence of a borehole,” say Sally Gracie and Di Forster, Chas Everitt International’s area specialists in Constantia Upper. According to both, upcountry buyers lured by the greener pastures of the Cape are particularly sensitive to water issues. “Level-2 water restrictions have been in place in Johannesburg since November 2015 and these clients have first-hand experience of living with low water pressure and sporadic water outages. Sellers whose properties have boreholes and wellpoints, or grey-water irrigation and rainwater harvesting systems are at a decided advantage,” they say.
As apocalyptic as it may sound, the possibility of the water crisis dampening the city’s housing market is not without precedent. Last year, for instance, drastic measures – including a ban on the building of new homes that don’t meet strict water-efficiency standards – were introduced in drought-parched California. Large multi-million-dollar estates in San Diego county were seen to lose over 25% of their value virtually overnight due to the issue of water.
So how can homeowners ensure that the verdant lawns, for which many of the metropole’s properties are justifiably famous, remain an asset instead of becoming a liability? “Given that up to 46% of the water consumption of households with stands over 500m2 is used on garden irrigation, a borehole will certainly decrease the demand on the municipal water supply while significantly reducing water bills,” explains Peter Corlett, sales and marketing manager at Borehole Man, which has been drilling in the Mother City for 12 years.
Indeed, since the Municipality’s announcement of stepped-up restrictions, the borehole business has been positively booming. “We receive over 80 enquiries a day,” says Corlett. And it’s not just homeowners in leafy Constantia and Bishopscourt who are scrambling to sink holes. “Areas like Fresnaye, Higgovale and Tamboerskloof have literally come alive in recent weeks,” he notes.
But, at a cost of R1 000 to R1 300 per metre drilled (with typical depths in Cape Town ranging from 20 to 40 metres), plus the expense of pumps, pipes and tanks, how much of an investment is a borehole? One study, published in the Journal of the Borehole Water Association of South Africa, puts the cost saving of using 1 619 kilolitres of borehole water over a three-year period at just over R19 500, when compared to standard (level-1) municipal tariffs. But it’s independence from the grid that is the biggest draw-card, says Corlett. “The inevitably of water outages and the escalating costs of municipal water make it essential for homeowners to become as self-reliant as they possibly can,” he insists.
Alje van Hoorn, co-owner of Aquarista, a specialist in grey-water garden irrigation and rainwater harvesting systems who has been operating in the Cape for six years, agrees: “We have seen a dramatic increase in the demand for municipal back-up systems, particularly among high-end homeowners.” Van Hoorn explains that, when used in conjunction with a rainwater harvesting scheme, these systems, which allow for the storage of between 1 000 and 2 000 litres of water and cost in the region of R35 000 to install, can allow a standard-size household to live off the grid for as long as eight months of the year.
A grey-water irrigation system (which will pay itself off in under three years, according to van Hoorn) is a given for those homeowners who want to retain their gardens. And, let’s face it, South Africans are particularly devoted to their outdoor spaces. Justifiably so, says Berry Everitt, CEO of Chas Everitt International: “Research shows that a well-maintained garden can add as much as 20% to the value of one’s property. The fact remains that gardens help sell houses, and that’s not going to change overnight in South Africa. However, when it comes to selling in the months ahead, homeowners who install water-saving systems and who opt for desert-friendly landscapes that contain water-sipping indigenous plants will almost certainly have the edge over neighbours with acres of thirsty lawn.”