In recent months there have been clear indicators that the real estate market in South Africa is beginning to bounce back. A recent article in the New York Times highlighted this fact, indicating that prices peaked in 2007 before plummeting by 25 to 30 per cent over the next two years.
One company that has seen real estate fortunes rise and fall over a much longer timeframe, is Camissa Properties. The business, located in the Parklands area of Cape Town, has been officially developing homes since 1966, when it was first incorporated as Motronic (Pty) Ltd., the holding company.
However, Camissa Property’s true origins date back to 1911, when the late grandfather of current Managing Director Ahmed Essop, began purchasing old homes and commercial buildings with a view to renovating and selling.
Over time the business grew, developing into a fully professional during the years of World War Two, when it provided residential accommodation for civil servants and state employees.
The promulgation of the Group Areas Act in the early 1950’s severely restricted the company’s opportunities and the business struggled to survive but did so, thanks largely to the dedication and resolve of Solly Essop, Ahmed’s father. Ahmed eventually assumed the role of Managing Director in 1974 and began to develop property across the Western Cape, with areas like Scottsville in Kraaifontein, Grassy Park, Maitland, Factreton, Fairways and Sherwood Park all helping the business to return to former glories.
Having moved to the United States in 1979, to continue his legal studies and experience in the investment and property markets, Ahmed returned in 1991 and rejoined the Group. By that time the political sands were changing and the business worked on a series of shopping mall projects alongside some of South Africa’s largest insurance names, including Sanlam and Old Mutual.
Essop began to concentrate on the West Beach and Bloubergsands regions as the company increased its residential portfolio and then, a significant milestone came in 1994, when the formed a strategic alliance with Aska Group. Having left the business for two years, Essop returned in 2001 and renamed the business Camissa, in recognition of the ancient Khoi name for Cape Town.
By that time, the Parklands project, in conjunction with Aska Group, was already well underway, having started in 1997.
Today Parklands, a joint development between Milnerton Estates and Aska Property Group, has developed into a brand new suburb, to the north of Table View. The project is rightly one that Camissa Properties is proud of and has created not only affordable housing but also introduced employment, retail and recreational life to the area.
Marketed as the “LIVE, WORK, PLAY….and INVEST” place to be, Parklands was declared the fastest growth area in the Western Cape, if not the country (value of construction plans 2000-2001 and 2001-2002) and by 2001 had a population in excess of 3,200 people, with the average ago of residents being just 32 years.
Camissa, through its association with Aska Group, was the first developer to dig a spade into the Parklands soil and subsequently developed more residential units on site than any other company.
Camissa Real Estate Services Trust (CREST) is a privately-held company with its sole aim and object business of residential and commercial property development and capital advisory services the promote economic and skills empowerment across South Africa, something pertinent to the business, given its own history.
This service is primarily delivered to municipalities and communities with the wish to improve their situation but perhaps lacking the skills, knowledge and resources to achieve their goals. CREST is able to provide turnkey property developments and prides itself on being one of the most technically proficient and green developers in the country.
To date the company has worked on projects totalling in excess of R3 billion – and whilst it could lay claim to being South Africa’s oldest property developer, it prefers to promote service and value as its primary attributes.
CREST has fostered an excellent track record within the affordable housing sector and given the usual logistical issues associated with building, confident indicates that it can build between 1,000 and 5,000 affordable homes each year.
The business has also built its reputation on strong foundations, with a core set of principles including: professionalism, integrity, innovation, environmental awareness and social responsibility.
Of equal importance is a structured approach to project work and Camissa has set out its principles clearly in the following statement:
“At the outset cognisance must be taken of the reality that any housing project, be it subsidy, affordable or GAP, is ultimately a social development project. Our philosophy for the success of social development projects is that it must be driven by, or built on, prudent business development principles.
“This is especially the case in undertaking not only state-funded projects but all projects that it is absolutely necessary for the relevant business principles to be clarified, understood and accepted upfront so that both project timelines and investment return requirements are met.”
The projects have a number of aims for CREST, which puts an emphasis on quality of life, mixed-use environments that bring communities closer together, job creation, long-term, sustainable living and creating a permeable interface with the surrounding area – all of which is designed to promote an improved lifestyle.
Parklands is a good example of what can be achieved, with properties ranging from affordable, entry-level apartments to townhouses and cluster developments to up-market homes. In addition to the massive residential development in the suburb, a large business and commercial hub has sprung up, with a range of infrastructure and service solutions, including seven local schools, a variety of restaurants and pubs and clubs.
For those of a more leisurely persuasion, the area boasts several beautiful, unspoilt beaches, where sporting fanatics can spend their time surfing, swimming or enjoying the world-class windsurfing and kite-surfing conditions.
If Parklands delivers an example of what property development can achieve in South Africa, then Camissa Properties, one of its key developers, provides the blue print for experience, quality and social integrity in the modern market, no matter how it fluctuates.