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BREAKING: Real Estate is back in business

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Real estate is back in business from Monday - but whether they can take potential buyers to view properties is still unclear

Real estate is back in business from Monday – it not being one of the business mentioned in a list of those prohibited from opening in Level 3.

But whether they can take potential buyers to view properties is still unclear.

Bill Rawson, chairman of the Rawson Property Group, says it’s good news for the country “as we are looking after both health and the economy”.

He added: “The economic effect of this shutdown will, however, take months if not years to play out. In many ways it could force us all to look for new ways in which to serve each other and thereby earn a living.”

Adrian Goslett, regional director and chief executive of Re/Max of Southern Africa, another of the industry leaders to implore government to reopen property services had said lockdown would have a knock-on effect on the property market “long after the lockdown is lifted”.

Goslett said the reopening “is good news for the real estate industry and the country as a whole. After weeks and weeks, late nights and early mornings by many people in the industry, we have managed to finally open a door. 

“We need to make sure we capitalise on this opportunity safely. There is still much to do.”

“We are only at the start line now of a long recovery ahead,” he said.

During lockdown the real estate industry was strangled, its many commission-based-only staff left without an income or a means to make a living. Many turned to attempt selling online – site unseen – but with the Deeds Office closed for a big part of lockdown there was no money funnelling through to them.

It was a celebratory mood yesterday among industry heads and employees as the country received a certain amount of clarity from Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma that it will be opening ahead of the Level 2 initially proposed.

On Sunday President Cyril Ramaphosa alluded to the fact that the industry could be one of the sectors opening when the country moved to level 3 on June 1.

Industry heads as well as the new National Property Practitioners Council, led by Vuyiswa Mutshekwane, had been lobbying government non-stop on behalf of industry to re-open real estate for business. They all vowed not to stop lobbying until the industry was reopened.

National Property Practitioners Council (NPPC) chairperson Vuyiswa Mutshekwane. Picture: Supplied

Mutshekwane said: “As independent commission earners, agents do not qualify for UIF or any other relief benefits so relaxation of the lockdown restrictions means that many real estate companies facing the imminent risk of collapse can potentially be saved. 

“We are also in discussions with the EAAB, the Department of Human Settlements and other industry stakeholders with regard to proposing measures to stimulate the industry going forward.

“The re-opening of the sector will also inject much-needed liquidity into the market which is an urgent need whose importance cannot be overemphasised. Property owners can now trade their biggest asset and unlock much-needed capital to fund business activities or given the challenging economic climate many homeowners can look at downscaling to more affordable properties.

“A return to work for real estate also means a return to work for many downstream activities and sub-sectors linked to real estate like removal companies, artisans including electricians and plumbers and valuers,” she said.

While MD of the Rawson Property Group, Tony Clarke, is delighted with the resulting decision to reopen real estate under Level 3, he says the discussions with governing bodies are far from over. “Our goal is to have the industry formally reclassified as a Level 4 service to ensure vital continuity should hotspot flare-ups cause a return to stricter lockdowns.

“We don’t want to end up in a situation where new leases or sales are paused halfway through the process because we went back to Level 4 lockdown and buyers, sellers and tenants were left to their own devices with no professional assistance,” he says.

“This was a major issue with the original lockdown and we want to do everything we can to make sure we don’t end up there again.”

Clarke is optimistic that the government will hear reason on this matter, saying they have been “very receptive” to input from industry experts so far.

While some industry heads have spent the week getting offices prepped and getting safety protocols into place others awaited the final go-ahead from the National Coronavirus Command Council today.

Earlier the minister on behalf of the NCCC told the country the next phases of “our fight and Level 3 allows us to open up all the productive sectors of our economy, all be it to a moderate degree in some high-risk sectors”.

“This risk level, thanks to the employ of the Risk-Adjusted Strategy allows us to maintain the delicate balancing act between saving the lives and livelihoods of South Africans. 

“It also requires greater responsibility and discipline from all us as citizens of this resilient nation” she said.

She added further that workplace gatherings for work purposes will be permitted under strict conditions and the observance of health, hygiene and social distancing protocols.

Employers must also ensure the 1.5 metres distance is maintained amongst employees. “We will have to limit the number of people in the workplaces, so that we minimise the chance of infection,” she said.

Clarke earlier assured government “the Property Industry has the ability, and the Statutory bodies to ensure that operations can commence with great care to the safety of our agents as well as the community of people urgently requiring our service to liquidate and/or monetise their property assets by being able to trade”.

The NPPC said the real estate industry, which employs over 40 000 people, accounts for up to 6 percent of the country’s GDP and its closure had a knock-on effect on not only other industries but also homeowners, buyers, sellers and renters.

In a letter CEO of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty Yael Geffen said:  “For an industry that is almost entirely commission-based it’s now a crisis. Even if estate agents secure sales on the first day post-lockdown, it’s likely to be at least another two months before they receive any commission from the transactions.”

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