September 6, 2011

Where to Live: Dainfern or Dainfern Valley?

First off, let me say that I don't mean to diss all the other perfectly fine neighborhoods out there. There is Kyalami, perhaps a notch below the budget required for both Dainferns and also a bit out of the way, which might actually be an advantage traffic-wise because you won't be stuck on William Nicol in the morning. There is Fourways Gardens, very pretty and in a great location, but perhaps with just a few more security issues lately, from what I've heard. Then there are Fernridge and Dainfern Ridge right next to us, with the same proximity to Dainfern College, if that is where your kids go to school. (For an article about Dainfern College and which estates it feeds from, click here). And there are numerous other places an expat might wish to live in Johannesburg, whether it is in an estate or not. In fact, with traffic as bad as it is, there is a strong point to be made to try and live as close to work as you possibly can.

View over the rooftops of Dainfern Valley


Nevertheless,  for most of the expats I've met, the choice seems to come down to either Dainfern or Dainfern Valley, so I'll focus this post on those two. I briefly toyed with the idea of making a snazzy decision matrix outlining pros and cons in a very easy-to-view chart, but since I have no clue how to actually do tables in HTML and am prone to get sidetracked for two days trying to figure it out, I think I'll do what I always do, which is just ramble on, and hopefully you can build your own decision tree from my observations...

Dainfern seems to be THE place to be for expats. It is huge (1000+ houses), has an excellent safety record, and sits right on a golf course. If you're a serious golfer, there is no doubt Dainfern is where you should live, and even if you're not, you might want to take it up here where the rates are reasonable, the weather perfect year-round, and where you'll be looking for things to do on the weekend. If your kids are involved in sports and you like the convenience of them just hopping on their bikes to get there versus hours in traffic to cart them from one activity to the next, Dainfern once again is your address. In addition to the golf clubhouse (where they host weekly buffets and other social get-togethers) there is also the Pavilion with tennis courts and a soccer field as well as (I think) squash, volleyball, and ballet. The soccer club (Dainfern Football Club or DFC to be correct) was recently reorganized and new coaches were brought in and trained, so if your kids are already playing soccer and want to continue, it makes a lot of sense to move to Dainfern.

Soccer action with Dainfern Pavilion in the background

Dainfern Valley, in contrast, doesn't have any of these things. So why would you want to move there? Simply put, the value of the home you're going to get. The homes in Dainfern Valley are generally newer and bigger (both in plot and room size) and the houses along the river front with their beautiful lawns sloping toward the water are unbeatable in scenery and privacy. Access to Dainfern College is even better from the Valley, as almost all houses are within walking distance of the private school gate. Several sports are available on the school grounds (even if your kids don't attend school there) such as swimming and tennis, and you're still very close to all that's offered in Dainfern (except you will have the hassle of going in and out the visitor's entrance, unless you're a golf member, in which case you will get an access card). The Valley with its 300 or so homes is also much smaller and feels more personal than Dainfern, and you'll definitely have a lot fewer speed bumps to negotiate to get to and from your house every day.

Extended playground on the Dainfern Valley riverfront

So - if your family is very active and social, Dainfern will be right for you. If you value privacy, space, and lush surroundings, Dainfern Valley will give you more options. In the end, you will probably look at both, and while you're at it, stop on your way from one to the other and take a tour of Dainfern College as it is a great school.

PS: Literally a day after I published this post a "security incident," as these things are called here, of an entirely new magnitude took place at Dainfern, the golf estate (not Dainfern Valley, just to be clear, which has also had its own security incident a while back reported here). I don't want to recount the entire story because details are still evolving, but let me just say that a man was shot to death outside of his home, by several men who were disguised as SAPS police officers and subsequently fled the estate in a hijacked car. It's all a bit hard to believe, but apparently the Chinese mafia was somehow involved (of all the crime stories I have heard about South Africa, the Chinese mafia hadn't been mentioned), and they apparently also  have some sort of presence in Dainfern, as the perpetrators were let in by a residents without having to use force, and it also now emerges that this wasn't the first incident of this kind. Just the first one where someone was killed.

I had mentioned Dainfern's large size as opposed to Dainfern Valley. Upon further reflection, I do think that this large size is definitely a negative for security reasons, since so many people go in and out of the estate every day that there is just more room for error, and much less of a personal relationship between the security guards and the residents. That, in my mind, makes Dainfern Valley the better choice.

29 comments :

Elizabeth said...

Thank you so much for your blog. My family is considering moving there to Joburg and the information that you have provided is so very helpful. You mention Dainfern and Dainfern Valley. We were told to look at Santon. What are your thoughts on Santon? How far is Dainfern from Santon? How far is Dainfern from Mandella Square? We have 2 kids 10 and 12, so I like the fact that Dainfern College is close by. We currently live in Michigan. Thanks so much for your assistance. A little nervous about the potential move...the first expat assignment for us.

Sine said...

Elizabeth - I think it depends on where your work is going to be, and which schools you're looking at. Dainfern to Mandela Square is perhaps 25-30 minutes, but only when there is no traffic. During rush hour in the mornings and evenings, it will easily take you an hour and fifteen minutes, or more. So if you want Dainfern College as a school but work is at Mandela Square, then one of you is going to have to brave the traffic and it's just a question of who. I personally think living in Dainfern and having the kids be able to walk to school or at least dropping and picking them up without traffic is a huge bonus, one I wouldn't want to miss. The kids will sometimes be done at different times or have to go back to school, so you'd hate it if you were really far away. The American school has a school bus but I'm not sure if it goes all the way to Sandton. I'm biased towards Dainfern College since our kids are there (the only American kids so far, I think - would love to get more there!). The school being so different from what we know turns many people off, but it has been the experience of a lifetime with benefits you can't really measure. If you give me your email address (or if you're a subscriber I can get it from there) I'm happy to answer more questions directly! I'm thrilled to hear you're thinking about moving here. Let me just say, coming from Michigan, you'll love the weather!

elizabeth said...

Thanks so much. I am a new subscriber, joined today. Let me know if you can get my email address. Don't want to post it. Look forward to communicating with you soon.

Sine said...

I can only see email addresses but not your name, so if you give me perhaps the first two letters or something I can work with, then I can figure it out... I had several new subscriptions the last few days so not sure which one is you.

Elizabeth said...

It is a yahoo account. Starts with Tosh. Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Magos&Friends said...

Hi Elizabeth,
I really enjoy your blog, we have just moved to Joburg 3 weeks ago, with 2 little kids and one coming early December. We had this 3 weeks to find a home, car, preschool, insurance, bank account, etc. It was not an easy period:-) We found a nice home in The Firms estate in Dainfern. I would be interested what we can do around. Eg. Is there any possibility for people not living in the Valley or in the Golf estate to get in and enjoy the beautiful areas there? I would be also happy to email with you privatelly, how can I send you my address? Best regards, Dorottya

Magos&Friends said...

Hi Sine,

Sorry I just realized I got confused with the names... I wanted to start my previous post Hi Sine...

Sine said...

Hi Dorottya,
no worries, I figured that out! I just went to your blog to see if I could contact you there but I don't think you have a link either (not that I understood much). Will check if you are subscribed to my blog and then I'll send you an email to that address... I really need to get a "contact me" page going:-)

Anonymous said...

I will like to know if you recommend living in Dainfern for a young family with 3 boys (6,4 and 2). Husband works at Rosebank

Sine said...

It's a bit far from Dainfern to Rosebank, so I don't know how that will work out for your husband. The traffic in the mornings especially is not nice. HOwever, Dainfern is a lovely area to live in, especially with small children as there are many families with children and opportunities for sports, such as a soccer team within the neighborhood.

Cristina said...

Hi Sine, thank you for your blog and all information shared! Very interesting and useful!
We will move to Johannesbourg by end of year and I would like if possible to discuss more things with you regarding the locations, schools, based on your experience.

Would it be possible please to give me your contact details by email : christinne2000@yahoo.com, and i call you?
I look forward receiveing your kind reply!

Thank you very much!
Cheers,
Cristina

Sine said...

I just sent you an email, let me know if you don't get it. Would be happy to answer your questions!

W. A. Jeffrey said...

Very informative. I haven't gotten around to looking at Dainfern much yet as I have been focusing on other areas. Sandhurst and Hyde Park are my favorites but I don't care for the high prices. In Bryanston you can get some very affordable homes with huge gardens (yards) but I wonder how hard it is to take care of all the greenery during the dry spells, especially if the prior owners planted thirsty non-native vegetation.

Morningside and Sandown offer a nice combination of location and price but I don't think either suburb looks as classy and up to date as others with homes that are the same price or less. Wendywood I don't care for at all. The properties are affordable but the area looks a little run down and they have had some ongoing security issues over the past few years.

So far, I think the best balance of price, amenities, and security can be found in Lonehill and Beverly. Fourways is another popular choice but it is kind of hard to speak of it so broadly as it encompasses such a large area. For those who love historic homes with lots of charm and less of a cookie cutter feel, Houghton is a nice choice.

In the end, I think it depends on a person's budget, whether or not there are children involved, and where your work is. Expats without children don't have to think about kids so they can pick pretty much any suburb depending on how far they are willing to drive to work each day. For retirees it comes down to how much they are wanting to spend and which kind of lifestyle and nearby attractions they are most interested in. Expats with children face the most constraints as they have to balance school AND work.

This is pretty much an inexhaustible topic. As to crime, with the overall crime rate as high as it is, odds are every suburb is going to have an "incident" at some point. Probably the most important thing to consider and one you might not find out until you've already selected a property is how well the security company handled the "incident." So it might be a good idea to ask your real estate agent not just how good the security is but how they've handled incidents in the past (assuming there were any).

Sine said...

That's a very thoughtful comment, thank you Jeff! I can second your choice of Beverley and Lonehill, great value and great location and not as overpriced as Dainfern as it is less of an expat hangout (why, I'm not sure). As for Fourways, yes, that encompasses a large swath of neighborhoods, but people will also use the term "Fourways" for the neighborhood of Fourways Gardens. That is also a great value. Security is a bit more lax there (which mainly I found nice going in and out to see friends!) but I love the look of it, very lush with vegetation, houses a bit smaller than the Dainferns but all very unique. I would think it would be a good option for you as you're probably looking for a smaller home. It's also one of the older neighborhoods, so may be a bit hard to find a modern enough house, but you could give it a try. It is certainly a great location, and a great place to meet wonderful people. Some of our best friends live there.

W. A. Jeffrey said...

I haven't looked at Fouways Gardens yet but I will certainly check it out. I started my search by copying the list of suburbs from expat arrivals. I use the property24 website to look for properties. I looked at Bryanston first and then branched out from there. I don't mind older homes provided they have already been renovated. I wouldn't want to have major work done especially when you don't know who to hire. I tend to be attracted to the larger homes even though 3 bedroom 2 bath is plenty big enough. As I have learned about utilities costs and the draftiness of the typical SA home from your site, I have come to the conclusion that a bigger home when I don't need it could cost me a lot of wasted money over time.

Sine said...

Not sure about that, really - the cost of heating our home didn't really vary that much with its size, more with the number of occupants, as the heat was turned on and off per room (we made sure it stayed turned off). But of course a bigger home brings other expenses, such as pool maintenance and lawncare, which in an apartment, for instance, you wouldn't have. Just depends on what you like. I think you're on the right track with the neighborhoods you're looking at.

W. A. Jeffrey said...

Thanks for the compliment. I guess I should have said that I wasn't interested in an apartment. So I will probably have to deal with pool maintenance costs although if I do it myself the costs will be limited to supplies. As to lawncare it will depend on the size of the yard. I notice the big fancy places all have large yards but beyond those it seems to have more to do with the age of the property rather than the size of the house. The newer homes tend to be on smaller lots because housing demand and security considerations make it more efficient and profitable to fit as many homes as they can in the available space.

I had no idea heat was controlled on a room by room basis. I assumed it was set for the whole house. I would think that having only some rooms heated would make the house colder as cold air could move from the unheated areas to the heated. The zoned heat thing kind of bothers me. I don't like it that they build houses that way. It wouldn't be so bad with radiant or forced air heat. I can't figure out why they use underfloor heating considering electricity demand is such a problem. I could see the advantage if houses were tight and well insulated but that isn't the case.

Sine said...

You get used to that. And it is cheaper that way. Actually, if I haven't mentioned it yet, the most important thing for you to look at is where your house is facing. It HAS to be north facing. You want to get as much sun as you can in the winter months, and then your house will warm up nicely during the day. You will learn to go to bed early. Oh, and buy some electric blankets.

W. A. Jeffrey said...

I wondered about the north facing thing as it comes up ALOT in the property descriptions. I'm on the fence about the bed early thing. I had been planning on changing my schedule anyway as I plan on going out to breakfast a lot. For almost 15 years now I have been going to bed at 3am and getting up at 11am. Looks like I would HAVE to switch it up for the winter months anyway so I guess I'll just have to be more "normal" once I move.

W. A. Jeffrey said...

Then again I might just keep on being weird. I do think that if I took your suggestion on the bed early thing I will probably go with longjohns rather than electric blanket. In fact I kind of like sleeping in a chilly room.

Sine said...

Good luck with that. If you go to bed at 3 am you will get about 1.5 hours of sleep until the hadedas wake you up.

W. A. Jeffrey said...

As I said, I will likely change my habits as my current ones were in response to some issues that have come about by sharing a house with my parents.

As far as the birds go it would depend on how noisy they are. I am a heavy sleeper and could doze off on a battlefield so who knows?

Sine said...

Good comparison. Hadedas sound exactly like a battlefield!

Andrea said...

Hi, we are considering moving to Johannesburg sometime in the next few months. Would consider the American school of Johannesburg. Its very impirtant that we lilve near the expat families who attend the school. Any recommendations? I see comments for expat families in Dainfern and fourways. Which one has more of the expats living in? People use houses or apartments?

Also, we are planning to move our furniture as it is covered by the company so wont need furnished house. I would like to know if you rent an unfurnished home or apartment, does it come with appliances such refrigerators, washing machine, microwave?

Thanks!

Sine said...

Andrea,

great questions! To leave near expat families attending AISJ, Dainfern is your best bet. It is full of them. Fourways also has a fair number, but Dainfern has more, and more concentrated, I would say. Please note that my information is 3years old, but I don't expect this to have changed much. People in both Dainfern and Fourways (I assume you mean Fourways Crossings - Fourways is also the name of the general area and there are various neighborhoods considered to be in this area, like Lonehill, Fernridge, and Dainfern as well as Dainfern Valley, and more) live in houses. This area of Johannesburg features mostly neighborhoods with larger homes/freestanding houses. Closer to Sandton you would find more apartments, but that is farther away from AISJ.

As for kitchen appliances, South Africa is more like Europe in this respect. If you rent an unfurnished home, it typically does NOT include fridge, washer, dryer, dishwasher, microwave. You are responsible for putting it in. However, many of these home owners are used to renting to employers or people like you who come from abroad, and since many Americans expect to have appliances in their homes (and, chances are, the previous tenant was American or at least an expat), it is very well possible that a certain house would actually have appliances, because the previous tenant negotiated them and has no interest in selling them upon departure. So I would suggest that you approach this on a case by case basis and negotiate with the landlord. They may want you to pay a token amount if the appliances are already there but probably won't negotiate hard because they don't really want to go ahead and sell something that fits perfectly!

Hope that helps, good luck on your move!

MIOPIASCOPIA said...

Hello Sine, a wonderful blog you have here! I've been hooked to it for more than a month now. We're a family of five and husband is getting an offer to work at Parktown (his office HQ is there and he'll be traveling around South Africa 40% of the time). I suspect his office is quite far from Dainfern. I've been looking at Sandton and Bryanston for housing and schooling for our kids (5yo and 2yo). Do you think these areas are safe for expats? I'm quite worried having to tow the kids to and fro from school and also spending the nights alone when he's outstation. So distance from a good school and home security are my top concern. Thank you for reading.

Sine said...

Hi there! So exciting to hear you may move to South Africa!

Yes, Parktown is not very near Dainfern, and traffic would compound your commute (though if you lived nearer Sandton you would go against traffic most of the time). Sandton and Bryanston are both excellent areas and you will find safe housing in either place. Again, I would make sure to go into an estate/apartment complex with security, as most of them are anyway. Don't pick a free standing home. Bryanston especially has some very nice freestanding houses and they are tempting, but that is the one thing I wouldn't compromise on, as they are more easily targeted and harder for you to maintain and make sure everything works.

There are a number of excellent schools in both areas, in fact Sandton and Bryanston probably combine to have the most private schools I've listed in my "Private Schools in Johannesburg" listing - you will find the link on the right in "Popular Posts". I've also included a map in there which might help you narrow down a suitable area.

Are you going on a look-see trip to check out housing and schools? If you do, I suggest you make the drive FROM Sandton TO Dainfern at 7:00 in the morning to see how it goes.

Another idea is to go ahead and move to Dainfern anyway, put your kids in the school there, and have your husband do all the commuting to and fro. After all, he'll be gone 40% of the time, so he won't have to do it all that much. And chances are he might be flying out of Lanseria vs OR Tambo some of the time, which is very close to Dainfern.

Lastly, you will be constrained by space in most private schools, so may not get your first choice. Unfortunately especially in the lower grades there is a shortage. I've written about that in one of my school postings. So it is important that you make yourself a rather large list and start putting your kids' names down (even your younger one!) to be placed on the wait list. You may have to start the older one at a school that's easier to get into, like one of the Crawford schools, until space opens up in your first choice (or you may find you're very happy with wherever they are:-)

Good luck with everything, and I'd love to hear how it goes!

MIOPIASCOPIA said...

Thank you so much for responding. Wonderful tips, I'd love to keep in touch as we make progress. Have a wonderful day! :)

Sine said...

You're very welcome and yes, please keep me posted about your progress or if you have any more questions!