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Draft document: Deeds office COULD open on Friday

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The Deeds Office could reopen on Friday if a draft framework for sectors is formalised this coming week. The draft framework outlined how the different sectors will be affected by the Level 4 lockdown restrictions.

Sectors and business organisations / trade unions and members of the public are invited to submit comments on the draft schedule of services to be phased in as per the Covid-19 Risk Adjusted Strategy to be implemented with effect from Friday. See more here

Before Friday the industry should know for sure one way or another. As it stands now the reopening of the Deeds Office has been added to Level 4 draft framework of lockdown.

According to the draft document both commercial building construction and commercial real estate will however only be permitted in Level 3, distressing news for the industry.

A further blow is that the draft only allows for construction of private residential projects at Level 2 and only then will all real estate activities be permitted.

Shortly after the draft document became available today, Vuyiswa Mutshekwane, chairperson of the newly formed National Property Practitioners Council, told Property360 that if the opening of the Deeds Office is formalised it will be ‘one big and positive move” in the right direction for the industry. 

She says however there are still a number of questions pending on how the rest of the property value chain from property managers to real estate agents will be affected.

The reopening of the Deeds office will Certainly open up a pipeline for ‘Stuck’ money to move to those for work already done, as it will allow transactions to be processed.

It has been “‘painful” for many estate agents and others in the value chain of property who have not been able to process monies earned or take transfer, she says.

What still remains unclear right now, however, is What the regulations on movement will be and whether buyers and renters can occupy their new homes, she says.

The reopening of the deeds office is one of the many things the Council and other stakeholders have asked for.

Bill Rawson of Rawson Property Group says if it is formalised it’s “fantastic news as there is an existing pipeline of work that was just stopped“.

He says it will also allow those estate agencies that have been doing virtual showings, negotiations and sales to now register these. 

Like Mutshekwane he is also unsure how people will move into their new homes “but let’s hope that it falls into another level that opens soon”. 

Rawson added that banks will now be able to register mortgage bonds to secure overdrafts or other credit facilities. 

Over the past few weeks, Stakeholders have been lobbying government to give the nod to a phased reopening of the property and construction sectors.

Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel provided a detailed briefing from Pretoria on the classification of industries as part of the risk-adjusted strategy on reopening the economy as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday.

From the draft government document, however, it seems that commercial building may only resume in Phase 3. Some construction, however, has been opened up further as per the draft document. These include:

1. Civil engineering for public works projects (including water, energy, sanitation);

2. Critical public works construction;

3. Road and bridge projects;

4. Other public works civil engineering projects; and

5. Critical maintenance and repairs

David Sedgwick, managing director of Horizon Capital says: “I think the opening of the deeds office is a very welcome relief and will certainly aide improving the cash flow for estate agents and developers who have properties ready to register. 

“However I do think the construction industry should be allowed to go back, even at perhaps 50%, under level 4 given the large amount of jobs this sector creates. It doesn’t make sense that it is treated differently to mining, and acceptable social distancing can be easily implemented on construction sites.

“The uncertainly surrounding when we’ll actually get to level 3 is distressing for the sector.”

The property industry has been lobbying government to see them as essential saying the closure of the SA Deeds Office during lockdown has all but strangled the industry.

It had asked government to urgently reopen the deeds office and to categorise the industry as an essential service and 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, they had said, would go a long way to ensure the property chain from homeowner to conveyancer attorneys, bond originators, auctioneers and estate agents, is not completely dormant. 

The building industry has also argued the lockdown should be eased to not only protect vulnerable sites and assist unpaid workers but as a major area of job recreation once the pandemic had ended.

The industry’s Construction Covid-19 Rapid Response Task Team, representing contractors, developers, construction professionals, suppliers and service providers, wanted a phased re-opening of the industry from the beginning of next month, starting with an immediate re-activation of construction sites under way when the lockdown came into effect.

Chair of the team, John Matthews, president of Master Builders South Africa, said the industry had submitted a detailed Covid-19 Risk and Mitigation Plan to the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure as part of its motivation for a phased re-opening.

“Continued lack of activity could mean we do not have sites to return to; hence the call for immediate re-activation and the resumption of professional planning, costing and design work.”

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