When Anele spotted the ideal property for her property development vision in February 2020, she was excited to get started. She and her husband wanted to transform the run-down, single story family home on a 700m2 stand into modern, affordable rental units.
“When my husband and I were students – he is an architectural technologist and I am a Chartered Accountant – student accommodation was a challenge,” Anele says. “After we graduated, we stayed in East London and we realised the challenge hadn’t changed. So, we bought our first property with the intention of building ourselves up to a point where we could take advantage of the opportunities in providing accommodation.”
“We met Letlatsa Lekhelebana from TUHF when we were looking to buy a different property that we had some great ideas for. But the project fell through when the building was bought by someone else. Still, we kept searching and when we found the property that is now LT Court, it was love at first site” she says.
The area that LT Court is in has been the subject of a lot of high-density development recently. Made up of fairly large stands with historical houses on them, the area offers good value for investors who can see the potential in refurbishing the existing buildings. “It was the perfect place to get started on our vision,” Anele says. “In its original form – the house was being used as a commune – it didn’t look like much, but we saw the potential to make it into something great.”
With TUHF’s support, Anele got clearance from the Heritage Council to develop the property. The stand now comprises 14 modern, studio apartments. But the project wasn’t an easy one.
“Once we put in the offer everything moved very quickly because we had dealt with TUHF before, and we knew what the requirements were. We were expecting to take transfer on 30 March 2020, and then lockdown was announced on the 26th,” she recalls. “That brought everything to a halt. The property was standing empty because we were prepared to start renovating, but the transfer couldn’t go through under Level 5. We also couldn’t start any work on the site. The house was vandalized in that period – windows were broken, fittings were stolen – and because the transfer was on hold there was some disagreement about who was responsible for securing the property.”
In addition to the theft and vandalism, squatters had moved into the vacant building. The laws governing squatting rights are quite challenging and getting people to move out can be extremely difficult. With their deposit already paid, Anele and her husband were worried that they may have to cancel the deal and start over. “But I must give credit to Letlatsa,” she says, “because he was so supportive during such an uncertain time and helped us to keep our eye on the finish line.”
In August 2020, when lockdown had been lifted enough for the transfer to go through and construction to begin, the squatters remained the biggest challenge. “We couldn’t simply start building while they were there,” Anele says. “We would have been liable for any injuries on the site, so we did what we could in terms of the renovation without taking that risk. We had to do everything in our power to get them to move out, safely. In the end, it was the coming of the rain in January 2021 that moved the squatters out of the building because it didn’t have a roof anymore.”
From here, despite a few small issues in the existing building, construction ran smoothly and by mid-July LT Court was finished. The building consists of classy studio apartments for middle-income earners that require accommodation near the CBD. The units have individual water and electricity metres so that tenants can monitor their own utility costs, with stoves and Wi-Fi included. At the time of the interview, it was 60% tenanted.
“The building is designed to appeal to confident, modern young professionals – from the choice of colours to the kitchen countertops and bathroom fittings – with parking for those tenants that have vehicles,” Anele says.
LT Court is named for Lady T – Anele’s grandmother-in-law. “My husband was very fond of his grandmother, so we named the building for this key family member that played such a significant role in his life and made him such a strong person.”
“Now that we’ve got this property in operation, we are looking at ways to update and improve some of our other property investments,” Anele says.
For other aspiring property entrepreneurs, Anele advises patience. “This isn’t a get rich quick scheme,” she says. “You have to be patient. Have a vision and passion, but also do your due diligence and your own research before you even approach someone like TUHF to help with getting your project off the ground.”
“Working with TUHF,” Anele says, “meant we had incredible support from the onset. They don’t just give you the funding, they hold your hand as an entrepreneur and help you to think of things you may have overlooked. They are very involved and offer a lot of guidance so that you understand the risks and how to overcome them.”