“Sorry, seems to be the hardest word.” That’s how the song goes. But in my last blog, I said sorry for over-estimating the rise in Joburg prices this year and the GDP growth of the country :-(!

Let’s have a look at the property market in this blog.

I still think that we’re being let off the hook and things are going fairly well given the dire economic news we read every day. My opinion tries not to be scientific so a lot of gut-feel goes into that statement. In addition, I live in a small, upmarket town which has had some raw land-delivery protests in the recent past and this, together with talking to contacts who are steeped in national property businesses, I’m sure colours my view. As you read, you may have a different perspective so let me know if you differ significantly.

Some insights:

  1. FNB’s John Loos, in on 4 September 2018, informs us that “the majority of home sellers (96%) have to drop their asking price in order to sell the property” in the Q2: 2018, according to the latest FNB Estate Agent Survey. “This is up from an estimated 91% reflected in the first quarter survey and compared to an estimated 78% who ended up having to lower their asking prices in 2014. He says the survey evidence suggests that asking prices on average have become less realistic in recent years. The estimated magnitude of asking price drop needed to make a sale became slightly larger – from -8.2% in the first quarter of 2018 to 9.2% in the second quarter”. And finally to this point, “FNB has not seen any noticeable increase in the percentage of properties resold at prices lower than the previous purchase price. About 9.6% of total properties resold in July were estimated to be at lower prices than the previous purchase price. This is higher than the 8.7% of May and 8.9% of June.”

    The word “realistic” is loaded with sentiment, the seller’s state of mind. If my home must be sold at less than the purchase price, about 10% per the comment above, that’s stressful. Making a capital gain of less than inflation is going backward fast especially given all the costs of selling and re-buying or renting. Making no gain could best be described as a stress-sale. On the other hand, in some parts of the country, 10-15% gain almost per annum, has been the order of the day. No more and my friend in Cape Town says that “to drop a Million on your price” is the nature of house sales at the moment. So, would any seller drop the million before selling? I don’t think so. You’d do that when you are a serious seller and see that no one is coming through your door. Getting the price right depends on the seller’s desire to sell. We have a house nearby going for R12.3m which has been on the market for about 6 months. It’s not going to sell even on a lucky dip and the price indicates seller reluctance.

  2. On the other hand, in a place like Hermanus what would be the price of this seller’s house? My guess is about R10m. Why a guess? Well, the market has definitely received more stock given the recent unrest which, as we’ve discussed before, is very in-your-face in a smaller town, so the outworking of these sentiments remains to be seen. The jury of potential buyers is out. Linked to this and for interest sake, the EFF held it’s Provincial Conference in Hermanus last weekend over three days. In the Zwelishle Primary school hall, the conference was orderly and had very little impact on the town. On Sunday, Julius held a rally at the sports fields and that went off peacefully as well. We’re grateful and trust such behaviour continues to pervade the run-up to the elections.
  3. Another aspect of the higher asking prices is that sales are taking longer to conclude – about 50% longer depending on where you read. 40 days on the market has moved out to 60 days overall. Again, I bet you the unrealistic expectations of sellers have contributed to this situation. What would be really interesting to see is the number of houses listed and then withdrawn from the market. That trend would tell you how needy the sellers were to sell for whatever reason. On the face of it, “I can’t afford my house anymore” should be rising as the economy remains very sluggish and jobs become more insecure, thus reducing confidence.
  4. Sadly, allied to the “I need to sell” category is higher levels of emigration. One can read very valuable information from the FNB Barometers covering this aspect, but perhaps the most interesting for me is that Police Clearances have moved out from about 6 weeks to 12, and even 15, weeks.
  5. One aspect that drives much of this conversation is the rate of interest and the desire of the banks to lend. The former stayed level last week as SARB, I am sure, attempted to supplement President Ramaphosa’s stabilization package and his envisaged stimulus mega-fund. On the other hand, the banks seem to still be saying Yes to lending and are thus a welcome part of the answer to growth; long may that be! On the absolutely negative side is an apparent helluva increase of petrol coming soon. What a tragedy that the tax on fuel and the VAT increase [which by estimates then, take R29bn out of consumers’ pockets], is simply the penalty of corruption under the leadership of the ex-president and his cronies. Imagine the same increases being ploughed into the Investment Mega-fund for housing, schools, and tourism! What a country we could have!

In summary, we are better than we could have been, in my humble opinion. I often say that as I write and then qualify myself by saying that I genuinely believe that. I have lived through terrible recessions, and this for all of its insidious undercurrent of large-scale theft, is not “terrible” in its outworking. Granted, these are not the “ol’ days” pre – 2008, but they could have been much, much worse for the property industry. My encouragement, therefore, is that we vasbyt. Reiterating my previous blog, our President can pronounce R400bn and maybe we don’t know where it’s coming from but from what I hear from his United Nations conversations, he has acquitted himself well. Remember, it was not long ago that Pravin Gordhan was called back from speaking to investors with R5tn in investment funds on the pretext of a one-pager spy accusation which resulted in Gigagupta being appointed in his stead – WE’VE COME A LONG WAY IN 2018!!!]

I learned an Afrikaans idiom the other day, “Die hoop beskaam nooit.” For the uninitiated, “Hope does not disappoint” [Romans 5:5], or, “Hope does not embarrass you.” On the contrary, hope rubs off on those around you. Enthusiasm is hope internalized and expressed. Remember, if you’re happy, tell your face. We are all more beautiful when we smile and “smile lines” are never wrinkles 🙂

Yours in Property.

Jack Trevena
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