File picture: AP
File picture: AP

Call for property industry to be declared an essential service

By Vivian Warby - Time of article published Apr 20, 2020

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Cape Town - An united property industry has called on government to re-open the Deeds Office during lockdown and to categorise the property industry as an essential service. Failure to do so could strangle the industry, they say.

The industry has also called for the re-opening of municipalities on a skeleton staff to ensure rates clearances can be issued and that transfers can take place.

This, they feel, will go a long way to ensure the entire property chain from homeowner to conveyancer attorneys, to bond originators and estate agent, are not completely dormant. 

They also argue that the real estate industry – involved in the shelter of South Africans – should be allowed to fall under the essential services classification. as they do in other parts of the world and “be allowed to continue operating to a certain extent,” adds Re/Max Southern Africa director, Adrian Goslett.

And, says Mike Greeff, CEO of Greeff Christie’s International Real Estate, things look tentatively hopeful that it could happen if certain prerequisites - such as ensuring Deeds Office workers have correct PPE - are put in place during lockdown. 

The closure of the Deeds Office during lockdown has left the industry in dire straits.

“Not only can 50 000 estate agents not earn during the lockdown as the industry is entirely commission based, the current pipeline is now stuck in the deeds offices and essential cash flow is non-existent,” says Tony Clarke, managing director of Rawson Property Group and also a director of Real Estate Business Owners of South Africa (Rebosa), who together with the Property Practitioners Forum, sent written submissions to government for the reopening of the office, among other.

“Once the country returns to normalcy and these estate agents can function once again, they will have to wait a further three months or more for payment in respect of sales then concluded. The industry simply cannot survive this.”

Re/Max’s Goslett who was one of the first to make a submission, says while the industry is cognisant of the risks associated with spread of the virus, many families find themselves in a position in which they are unable to access the finance they were relying on because of the Deeds Office closure.

“Many purchasers may also find themselves in a position of ‘homelessness’ due to being between transactions. Beyond this are the thousands of real estate practitioners whose income has been reduced to zero during this period,” Goslett explains.

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