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What now for real estate agents?

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The real estate industry will have to learn to work with what they have in order to survive, the NPPC said shortly after it became clear the government would not be reopening the sector in Level 4.

Vuyiswa Mutshekwane, chairwoman of the National Property Practitioners Council and chief executive of the SA Institute of Black Property Practitioners, says this could mean coming up with innovative ways to continue, including better use of digital and tech platforms.

The industry was left in shock on Thursday night when trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel failed to mention it in sectors that would be opened under Level 4.

“It is devastating the government did not put into effect even one single recommendation the council had made on behalf of the real estate industry,” says Mutshekwane. “Tech doesn’t close every gap for our members. We have to figure out a different way to execute our duties. For example, how do we do home valuations and home inspections in this climate?” However, she says agents will be able to look for prospective clients.

“There is business to be done. The market is good for buyers as we have a lot of people in financial distress who may be looking to convert their properties into more liquid assets.

“But, logically, it is unlikely you will have purchasers if they can’t do physical viewings. It is going to impact us even more than it has already.” she says. Steve Thomas, secure estate specialist for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty, believes the “longer this crisis persists, the more likely we are to see transformative and lasting changes in behaviour, and the more we need to consider what information and services need to be included in the new normal”. 

Features like video and conference technologies will become more commonplace, especially in the research and comparison stages of a buyer’s search for a new house or location.

“Agencies will need to significantly improve and enhance the property listing information as a standard offering.” Buyers, too, will need to be more diligent and aware of what information they need to buy remotely.

“With limited or no direct physical viewing, the location and setting of a home become of prime importance to understand, so prospective buyers must be able to discern proximity to roads, neighbouring properties, sources of noise, perimeter fencing, radio masts and servitudes, which should be clearly shown,” Thomas says. In addition, buyers will need to be financially pre-qualified soon, believes Bryan Biehler, managing director and co-owner of Huizemark.

“In a negative economic environment, sellers are going to want to know the financial position of potential buyers if they’re going to agree to access due to the potential risks involved.”

While franchisees have been urged to expand their digital boundaries, Biehler also foresees an increase in the pressure on agents to upskill, and on estate agencies to provide relevant, remotely accessible training pertaining to the changes in the arena. “Everything is going to change, and in ways we don’t even know yet.”