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Government urged to see property industry as essential service

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Written submissions to government to urgently re-open the Deeds Office during lockdown and to categorise the property industry as an essential service has been put out by the property industry, including estate agencies and bond originators in their individual capacity as well as associations, forums, and also numerous attorneys’ associations.

They have 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, says the industry, will go a long way to ensure the entire property chain from homeowner to conveyance attorneys, to bond originators and estate agent, are not completely dormant. 

They argue that the real estate industry – involved in the shelter of South Africans – should be allowed to fall under the essential services classification and to continue operating to a certain extent. Re/Max Southern Africa director, Adrian Goslett, says many countries around the world, such as Australia and the US, have in fact allowed realtors to operate with limited restrictions.

And, says Mike Greeff, CEO of Greeff Christie’s International Real Estate, things look tentatively hopeful that it could happen if certain prerequisites are put in place during lockdown. 

“This includes that those working in the deeds office would have the necessary PP equipment to prevent the virus spreading in deeds office. Certain banks on the bond side will also need to get up and running.’ Most notable the crisis has seen ‘everyone working well together to get this to happen,” says Greeff.

For now the industry awaits a decision with bated breath. The closure of the deeds office during lockdown has all but strangled the industry, where estate agents – and those in the process of buying and selling – have been prevented from getting their monies or having home ownership confirmed.

“Not only can 50 000 estate agents not earn during the lock-down 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 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. “

Meanwhile, Re/Max’s Goslett, who was one of the first to make a submission, says while he is cognisant and mindful of the risks associated with the continued spread of the Covid-19 virus, “I am equally concerned for the many families that 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.”

In his letter to government, Goslett stated that “Real Estate Services help people find shelter – be it home ownership or rental – and navigate what is often the biggest financial transaction of most people’s lives.

“At this very moment, there are countless families in our country that have signed offers to purchase on properties or that have signed rental agreements in recent weeks and months.

“These families now await transfer of their properties and access to finance, a process that can take weeks and/or months in some cases.

“Notwithstanding the fact that all other suspensive conditions of these transactions have been met, it is impossible to conclude these transactions due to the need for third party intervention and processes such as rates clearances by municipal departments, bond grants by banking institutions and transfers processed by the Deeds Office. Without these and other necessary real estate related services, ordinary citizens are unable to get access to finance and complete a transaction that provides a basic need: shelter.”

Meanwhile, STBB says it’s been confirmed that the Deeds Office computer system is programmed to reject matters after about 12 working days. It is therefore inevitable that matters currently in the system shall be rejected, subject to anticipated interim assistance measures to be implemented.

Once the Deeds Office re-opens, it is expected that the Director-General will issue operational guidelines to be implemented by the various Registrars of Deeds.

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