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Women’s long and hard property journey

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Women’s participation in the property sector, both as professionals and also sellers or buyers, has been affected by discriminatory laws and a lack of knowledge about how it works.

When someone is aspiring to reach a goal or make a life change, powerful quotes are often used for motivation. Some of the most well-known are along the lines of “the secret to getting ahead is to get started” or “the best time to start is today”.

But for many women in South Africa and around the world, achieving dreams such as property ownership or making career strides in the property sector has not always been under their control. Even if they had the desire and the will to take that first step, in the past a slew of laws prevented them from doing so.

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While this is changing, fortunately, the road has been hard and the journey long. Female property ownership – or lack thereof – has always been an issue, says Gugu Sithole-Ngobese, founder of Women in Planning SA (Wipsa). In addition to there being laws and customs making it difficult for women to own and inherit the land, land ownership is an intersectional issue where multiple forms of discrimination, including race, play a role.

“It is improving, especially after landmark cases such as that in 2020 when Agnes Sithole successfully challenged an apartheid-era law that denied black women the right to own family property.”

Gugu Sithole-Ngobese, Founding director, Women in Planning SA (WiPSA)

Sithole-Ngobese says prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn, there was an increase in the number of young, black women driving the property market. However, more needs to be done to arm women with the tools to build wealth and obtain appreciating assets, such as property.

“There is a general belief that if you provide opportunities, people will come. But information needs to be spread. Many women, especially black women, aren’t aware of the opportunities that exist to help them own properties.

“Government subsidies, such as the Finance Linked Individual Subsidy Programme (Flisp) which is open to all South Africans looking to purchase their first home, are available and more needs to be done to disseminate this information.”

Lightstone Property data shows that in 2017 a total of 38.4% of residential property purchases were made by women, although some were joint with men. Women-only buyers accounted for 18.35%.

Since then, women property ownership has grown:

• 2018: 41.6% women purchases – 18.7% women-only purchases.

• 2019: 44.2% women purchases – 20.1% women-only purchases.

• 2020: 50.25% women purchases – 23.43% women-only purchases.

• 2021 so far: 55.25% women purchases – 24.9% women-only purchases.

In the first half of this year, women made almost 71000 property purchases, although some of these were joint purchases with men. Gauteng accounted for most of such buys with 29 401. This was followed by Western Cape (17 498) and KwaZulu-Natal (8 758). But women’s participation in the property sector is not just about homeownership.

It includes all the professional facets of the built environment sector as well as female participation at board level of the listed property sector. This year, the inaugural State of Gender Diversity in the Listed Real Estate Sector report was published by the Women’s Property Network (WPN) in collaboration with the Property Sector Charter Council and Anchor Stockbrokers.


• 13 out of 28 Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) had 100% male executive directors.

• 17 out of 28 REITs had 28% female non-executive directors. From 2013 to last year, women only accounted for 15% of executive positions and 24% of non-executive positions. In the report, Joanne Solomon, chief executive of the SA REITs Association, said: “The South African REIT sector is making some progress but it’s clear that more is needed to ensure the industry remains a major contributor to the economy (and) drives transformation imperatives across its vast value chain and broader society.”

Nonhlanhla Mayisela, chairperson of WPN and chief executive of Izandla Property Fund, says REITs greatly influence the downstream value chain because, as the primary owners of real estate assets, they are major procurers of services and significant employers in the sector. And the sector is an interdependent ecosystem in which each of the segments relies on each other to derive commercial value.


Nonhlanhla Mayisela, chairperson of WPN and chief executive of Izandla Property Fund. Picture: Supplied

“Equally, when we focus on the topic of gender diversity in the sector, it is evident that the ability of the sector to realise meaningful and sustainable economic participation by women largely depends on the various segments within this ecosystem to work collectively to achieve gender diversity.”

Mayisela says the organisation believes that gender diversity in the sector will be largely driven by the representation of female executives and non-executives who form part of the REITs. “This is where decisions related to senior appointments and procurement are made, and as such, if there’s sufficient gender diversity at this level, the participation of women along the full real estate value chain becomes a strategic imperative.”

In terms of working in property sales, Sithole-Ngobese says there is a “dire need” for more black women to operate as full-status agents. “Aspiring estate agents are required by the Estate Agents Affairs Board to select a mentor at their agency to guide them, which entails signing off on their deals and overseeing the development of their logbook (an EAAB requirement which contains all evidence of their work as an intern agent).

“Young women of colour need mentors who are able to empathise and see their points of view and understand the challenges that come with being a young, black female in the property sector.” Because many black people do not inherit lessons of property ownership from their parents, aunts or uncles, she says there is no familial passage of knowledge on how to invest and maintain wealth.

“So, for many women in South Africa, this knowledge is obtained through research and hard work. Mentors who understand what is at stake are crucial.”



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