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Cape Town Deeds Office intermittent closures disaster for property chain

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The intermittent operating of the Cape Town Deeds Office is playing havoc with the city’s real estate market and impacting the already-strained incomes of estate agents.

Since the Office reopened Under Level 3 lockdown on May 13, it has been closed five times – often for a few days at a time, for Covid-related sanitising and precautions.

This has raised the ire of conveyancers, estate agents, and home owners as, when the Deeds Office is closed, property transactions cannot be processed.

Adrian Goslett, regional director and chief executive of Re/Max of Southern Africa says closures cause longer delays for transfers to be finalised which, in turn, also delays an estate agent’s ability to earn an income.

“While we acknowledge the importance of following health and safety measures to protect against Covid-19, we also hope that the Cape Town Deeds Office will find ways to minimise future closures, as every closure causes major disruptions in the Cape Town real estate market.”

Although that there is “not much” else that the Deeds Office could have done, Lew Geffen, chairman of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty says it could try to close for shorter periods than it has done. Cash flow of real estate agencies has been, and will continue to be, “severely disrupted” by the closures

“(This) will place agencies under pressure as they have overheads and service providers and staff to pay.”

He adds: “Whilst it is extremely disruptive, we have to protect people’s lives first and foremost…”

The Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry has been less sympathetic, with its president Geoff Jacobs even pondering whether the Deeds Office workers were adding paid holidays to their list of perks.

In a statement released last week he said: “It is not as if there isn’t enough work, given that the Chief Deeds Registrar has acknowledged that there is a backlog of 14 000 property sales to be registered.

“If so, they should know that because they are not doing their jobs many first-time home buyers are in limbo, forced to pay rent to the previous owners instead of benefitting from the security of owning their own homes.”

The severity of these disruptions were indicated in a recent webinar by Jacques Fourie, managing director at C&A Friedlander Attorneys, who stated that, just seven days after reopening, the Deeds Office suspended lodgements due to insufficient staff numbers.

“On July 3, only 27% of all deeds lodged (since reopening) had been registered,” he said. This amounted to 7 958 deeds.

“By July 1, this improved by 5%, when 32% of lodged deeds were registered.”

As at July 17, Fourie says the Deeds Office had received a grand total of 35 937 lodgements since reopening on May 13. The rate of registration improved by 3%, taking the total number of all deeds registered to 35%, or 12 847.

“Prior to this improvement, deeds lodged in May took more than a month just to be allocated to a level 1 examiner. The examination process, from date of lodgement to when the deeds came up for prep, took more than 35 working days.”

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