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Can the property market bounce back from Covid-19?

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OPINION: Beyond the panic around coronavirus is the realisation that times of crisis can provide opportunities for the brave, writes Property Editor Vivian Warby.

The property market was already taking strain before the arrival of Covid-19.

A tight economy, an impending Moody’s downgrade, load shedding, and high rates and taxes meant the sector slowly turned into a buyers’ market over the past few years, and many sellers were forced to slash prices if they wanted to get a deal.

Not only that, digital disruption changed the way in which business used to be done, and forced estate agencies to relook at their structures. However, this disruption didn’t have the dire effects they initially anticipated. It was the difficulty around concluding a sale in a tight market that agencies were most bemoaning.

Then in stepped Covid-19. At first coronavirus cases were being reported in other areas, other countries. That led to sudden downturns and shut downs. Markets crashed. People were living in lockdown.

It hit home, hard, with the recent announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that it was business “unusual” as he banned certain air travel and events, and told the country that without a doubt the economy would take a long and lasting hit.

Panic immediately set in with fears the coronavirus could choke the industry. Emergency meetings were held with staff in estate agencies to outline strategies, and many employees were sent to work from home.

Agency heads showed leadership by sending out statements detailing the steps they would take to protect staff members and potential buyers visiting show houses, and also the sellers whose homes would be on show. As some fears subsided, and everyone took a deep breath, things became clearer: even in the worst of markets and darkest times, good can follow.

Apartment blocks, streets, suburbs and companies started WhatsApp and Facebook groups so the young and healthy could offer help, including grocery shopping, to the most vulnerable.

People all over the world started acknowledging how alternative energy is gaining traction, and should continue to do so more quickly as the world realises that nature heals itself when given a chance.

For the industry that built its market on home ownership, it was the very structures they had sold and rented out that have become safe havens during the global pandemic. As new phrases have entered our vocabulary, including self-isolating and social distancing, people have turned to their homes for refuge. 

Staying indoors means home comforts and investing in a nest have become a new priority for many people. While many feared, long before Covid-19 hit our shores, that buying a home was no longer a priority, particularly for millennials, the pandemic may have the opposite effect in the long run.

Experts say it may end up being both a buyers’ and sellers’ market. Forced indoors, many who were not committed to buying may wonder why they waited so long to obtain the security of property. Those who are renting will want to hold on to the nests they have made.

Many who are unhappy in their homes, and who turned a blind eye to issues structural and otherwise, won’t be able to do so while there 24/7. They will want something better, newer perhaps, maybe bigger. It may also lead to a flurry of DIY projects as people go all out to make their homes secure and eco-friendly. 

Working from home will also probably give rise to people buying office equipment for the home. Times of crisis always create opportunities for those who are able to see the wood for the trees. Crisis also creates opportunities for good leaders.

When the dust begins to settle, whenever that is, the crisis may have ushered in more conscious and exciting ways of owning, buying and selling property. 

“People will always need a home. The only thing that will change is how we operate to help dreams come true,” says Bill Rawson, chairman of the Rawson Property Group. Yes, the way estate agencies have operated is likely to change. It is likely to be a different environment at the end of this pandemic.

The way we humans function in our daily lives is also likely to change, and not only for the worse. Having a safe place to retreat to will certainly be top of everyone’s mind. Call me an optimist, but I believe we may see a perfect market for buyers and sellers in the months ahead.

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