The business of balancing the books with a purpose

Growing up on a farm Pieter du Toit believed that he was living the dream life. He didn’t necessarily want to be a farmer but he hoped to one day give his children the same sense of freedom and space he had. Living in small apartments for several years while working in New York City gave him a completely different perspective on the idea of freedom and space. As a development manager for Similan, he applies this perspective to every new project he works on. It is about getting the best use for every space, inside and outside, for future residents to enjoy.  

“In New York, I learned that owning a large piece of land was not necessary to enjoy life. The way the spaces between apartments and homes are designed, used and (more importantly) shared can give people access to a lifestyle and amenities they would otherwise not be able to afford while being close to work, entertainment, and other opportunities.”

He appreciates the process and theory of placemaking applied by Similan. It is focused on observing and listening to understand people’s needs and aspirations and then designing accordingly.

Also being responsible for business development, Pieter works with various agents and professional consultants to find undeveloped land in the right areas and collaborate with other developers to identify new residential property development opportunities. He also negotiates with landowners, professional consultants and service providers to ensure that they can bring the best possible quality in an affordable price range.

“Preparing a plan for a new development requires us to find the ideal site on which to develop residential buildings and facilities that add value to residents’ lives by using the right technology, building materials, building methods and the correct team of consultants and service providers.”

It is not a small task to balance the books with so many variables, but for Pieter, it is a calling to make an impact that goes beyond mere profit. He shares these values with Similan. The company tries to make a quality lifestyle affordable for more people with good financial decisions to build sustainable neighbourhoods while also generating a profit for investors. “We also look very carefully at the impact of our developments on the environment and how what we build will affect future generations.” 

Pieter is excited about the fact that technology, such as solar PV plants and batteries, is becoming more affordable, while greywater systems work better and are more readily available. “Green building” has been an important part of Similan’s innovative approach to property development, especially since being the first to develop EDGE certified homes in Africa.

South Africa has a massive housing need and Similan is helping to address it, as part of the private sector. However, Pieter explains that Similan does not only build as many housing units as possible, for the lowest possible price on any piece of land. They are committed to building lasting communities because the quality of life of its residents matters most.

Similan has developed three important questions to ask about every residential neighbourhood it develops:

1) Can children play in the streets? This question deals, for example, with safety, the layout of streets, pavements, parks, and equipment installed in play areas. 

2) Would we live there ourselves? Do we, for example, like the fittings and design of the houses, as well as the landscaping?

3) Will it still look good in ten years? Are the building materials of good quality and how affordable is it to maintain the roads and landscaping to ensure it will look good for years to come?

It requires meticulous planning, management, negotiation and a fair amount of persuasion to eventually tick all of these boxes at a price that suits the market. Pieter has noticed a market shift where people are more comfortable accepting smaller home spaces with better security and amenities to be shared with neighbours, and he finds that very encouraging. 

Civil, electrical and transport infrastructure has a big impact on the initial cost of development, that is why Pieter believes that government and municipalities should focus on the provision, expansion and maintenance of infrastructure as that would contribute to making it more affordable for the private sector to provide formal, secure housing for a larger portion of the South African market.

“Local authorities and property developers have to work together. It is important to continuously monitor the needs of the community, the mandate of the appointed authorities, and how we can develop properties that fit into municipal spatial development plans.”  

It is more than a numbers game for Pieter who has found purpose through the impact that affordable residential property development has. 

Author: Similan Properties