SALTA SIBAYA – SMART VILLAGE, SMART DEVELOPER
As KZN’s first smart village, Salta Sibaya will set the precedent for how South Africans will live in the future within a mixed-use community. Out & About met up with Charles Thompson, group director of developer, Devmco, to get his take on latest trends.
While there’s no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has fast tracked the idea of smart villages and forced us to rapidly adapt to a digital lifestyle, it will take courageous developers to take this out of the realm of science fiction and into daily reality.
One of them is Durban-based Devmco Group, which has risen to the challenge at Salta Sibaya in Umdloti where plans are well advanced for the creation of KwaZulu-Natal’s first smart village, using data and tech to improve both service delivery and quality of life but retaining the charm of those things that money can’t buy – the ocean and beautiful natural surrounds.
Tech will take care of the two priorities when it comes to new age living in South Africa – safety and convenience.
The development launched in March this year and offers 2-bedroom homes from R2 950 000, 3-bedroom homes from R3 300 000 and 4-bedroom homes from R3 900 000.
Thompson, who started Devmco in 2007 with a colleague and has grown it to a staff of 97, is now living his dream.
Yet, ironically, this UKZN graduate started his career in the UK in commercial property working on landmark projects such as the Houses of Parliament and The Gherkin in London. Disenchanted with the lifestyle and hankering after some sunshine, he returned home after seven years to work for JT Ross on signature projects such as the Glass House and Netcare Hospital in Umhlanga and the eThekwini Heart Hospital.
His next move was to Construction ID. During his more than 11 years with that company, he worked on about 180 different projects including Zimbali Suites, Beacon Rock and Urban Park.
Since starting his own company to challenge some of the bottlenecks in the residential development process and realise some of his own aspirations, he has built at least 35 homes in Zimbali. He has also worked on the Arch and within the Sibaya precinct where Devmco has created the likes of Ocean View, Gold Coast and, now, Salta Sibaya.
O&A: You said you believe in the Sibaya node – why?
We have worked pretty hard over the last 20 years and we have started to have some fun now. I really believe in this node. I reckon if you had to look anywhere in Africa., not just in South Africa, you wouldn’t find a place like Sibaya. Durban is done and is leeching really good tenants every day. All the money has gone to Umhlanga. This and other new nodes have developed – Cornubia and the Aerotropolis. Wedged between the three is Sibaya.
It is right on the beach, just 3km from Umhlanga and above Umdloti which is a high end node. It is not too far to commute to Durban or Umhlanga. Schools are here as well as hospitals and shopping. We have everything.
Then, we are just five minutes from the airport. You have industry if you work in industry as well as commercial and retail. You are on the beachfront with the forest in front of you and no other buildings. You have got wildlife, yet you are close to the city. You can wake up, go for a surf, get in your car and be at the office within a very short space time.
How did you gain such a strong position within the node?
We bought the first piece of land. We had to bid for the land initially and were fortunate to have the backing of a wealthy investor. They took our offer and, from there, we were the only guys in the node. We basically owned the node. Before anyone had woken up, we had sold our second development. Then, we did Gold Coast, Urban Park and we have just opened up Salta.
At the beginning, it was a no brainer on paper but hard to try something that had never been sold before. Ballito prices were about R18 000 per sq/m, Umhlanga R35 000 to R40 000, so we pitched at R25 000. That was in between the two and it obviously worked well. It ticked all the boxes – security, privately run, on the seaside.
O&A: Timing is everything – how have you fared during Covid?
It has been good for us! Interest rates have dropped which is huge – banks are lending at 6,5% so, affordability wise, the gap between renting and buying has closed. This has stimulated demand.
Secondly, it has squeezed people out of trusted zones – tight zones where houses are stacked up against each other. People want to be able to open their gates, have no maintenance, feel safe and secure and just walk into the forest or down to the beach. So, Covid has made people more aware that they need larger open facilities – and convenience.
During lockdown, a lot of guys didn’t have domestic workers and started doing their own gardening, cleaning their own pools and homes. What we have done is capitalized on this with smaller plots. Then we have provided gyms, parks, forest trails and mountain bike tracks and super tubes. You can use it all and you don’t have to maintain it.
Covid has changed mindsets even when it comes to working. Now, it is about providing home offices and club houses with office facilities and technology included in your levy.
O&A: Tell us about the technology at Salta Sibaya?
We’ve always tried to challenge the status quo when it comes to mixed-use developments, and Salta Sibaya is no exception. Not only is this estate surrounded by natural beauty, the facilities and homes themselves will be powered by new technologies and sustainable energy sources including solar power. We will be introducing the first ‘true’ smart wallet into KwaZulu-Natal where you can conveniently use this for billing on levies and utilities as well as host an energy consumption profile that will allow viewing of your usage.
Salta Sibaya will be the first smart village to launch in KZN and we have been overwhelmed by the positive response to date.”
Salta Sibaya will feature smart security with CCTV, thermal camera imaging, hands-free biometrics, beams and alarms throughout the estate. There will be a future app integration for communication between estate managers and residents. Efficient energy saving design will be actioned throughout the estate.
O&A: Tell us about the new retail facilities?
Because of Covid-19, people are seeing retail in a whole new way. We are building a retail mall that’s all open air at Salta. We have all the big brands but we have done an open end mall with big open parks so that it can host outdoor events such as gin and tonic festivals in the park, movie nights. All restaurants are open air. You can park straight outside and walk directly to where you want to go. It is a true lifestyle centre.
I think everything was leaning towards convenience before Covid. I still believe that the most precious commodity is time. None of us have enough, so convenience is becoming more and more important. You can even see it in how we communicate. In the past, a phone call would have taken five to 10 minutes. Now it is a 30 second voice note.
O&A: Who is buying at Salta Sibaya?
Mainly Durbanites – and that’s because there’s very little of similar quality in the Durban area. Creating a new node makes all the difference especially when you can have private roads, where properties are maintained, cleaned, landscaped and privately secured. If there’s a pothole, it gets fixed in a day. This is first world living – an island of excellence that is not reliant on municipal service delivery.
O&A: What is the future for Devmco?
We would like to specialize in developing prime land with a good return on investment, so we are still looking for our next site. There some possible options – Beachwood or even the Virginia airport land if development goes ahead. That is super prime land so it’s worth developing.
We sell long term investments as well as lifestyle and we like to look after our buyers because up to 80 percent are repeat buyers.
If you don’t believe in this city, then you might as well move away. We are very positive. Yes, there are problems, but there are problems everywhere. I think that we can do something special here. We already are. Just give us another five years.
O&A: Does your family live on any of the estates that you have developed?
My family (wife and three daughters) is about to move into our new home at Gold Coast. It is going to be cool to live among like-minded people who love Durban and who want to not only live here, but to make things better.