Pushing through to transform the property sector

MAIN IMAGE: Here are some of the interns and Umbono students currently at the Leapfrog Eersterivier office: (back from left) Ziyanda Ketse, Fezile Nomntu, Nosipho Gontsana, Pamela Bengu and Busisiwe Npikeleli. Front: Miranda Mhlongo and Sisanda Tshetu. Photo: Helene Meissenheimer

It takes a lot of grit and determination to become a success if you are a black estate agent. Almost daily many face rejection and prejudice, not only from white sellers but also from black people within in their own communities. Yet, it is in real estate that they chose to be because they want to push through to make a success and be part of the transformation of this sector. Here are some of their stories.

One of the exceptions is Miranda Mhlongo, a 31 years old intern at Leapfrog Eersterivier, a formerly mostly coloured area near Cape Town. A successful entrepreneur who owns her own businesses, she says she got her passion for real estate from her mother who was one of the first black estate agents in the Cape Town area.

“I saw how my mother struggled because she was black, but she was also successful. She always said ‘I won’t die before Pam Golding gives me a call’ and on her deathbed in 2007 she did get a call from Pam Golding,” says Miranda.

She grew up helping her mother Regina Zweni. “My mom really taught me the in’s and out’s of real estate. She sold houses all over the Cape, even in Bellville and had quite a few white clients that liked her. I am proud of her and just want to continue where she left off.”

Miranda said one of the things she noticed growing up was that there were no black people in the real estate business. That is largely still true even today but unlike those days projects such as the Umbono real estate transformation program are making it easier for black people to gain entry into the property industry. The young people still face many challenges, some of them brought about by the very fact that in black communities so few people know what estate agents actually do.

“They say agents eat our money,” says Sisanda Tshetu (26), one of a group of 8 Umbono-students who recently began their internship at the Leapfrog Eersterivier office. The others in her group agree and say they often find they first have to tell people what estate agents do and build a relationship of trust before it is possible to do business.

Fellow-student Pamela Bengo (23) says doing the Umbono-course made her see that black people in the townships know nothing about the industry and this leads to mistrust. Now she finds that she is able to share what she has learnt and so tell people more about the industry.

The lack of property professionals in black communities often leave property buyers vulnerable to fraud. Nosipho Gontsana (31) says she got into property as a profession because of what happened to her aunt. Her aunt was one of three people that were conned into paying money to buy the same property without knowing about each other. The seller disappeared with the money and all three buyers are left without knowing who owns the property.

There are many such stories. Sisanda says they find in black communities that property buyers are therefore keener to work with estate agents because they don’t want to get robbed, but sellers often don’t want to have anything to do with agents.

White sellers on the other hand are often hesitant to work with black estate agents. And then they, of course, also have to deal with the usual frustrations faced by estate agents such as clients who have unrealistic expectations of the value of their property and buyers who can’t decide on what it is they are really looking for in the property they wish to buy.

Still, despite all the challenges, these budding young estate agents say there is nothing else that they would rather do than to sell real estate. “We will break through. We left our office jobs, we must just push through,” sums up Sisanda.

One who has already shown that he can push through is intern agent Fezile Nomntu (41) who last year received a national award (Club Class) from the Leapfrog Property Group.

He has great hopes for the interns and the eight Umbono students in his care. The students are willing to learn and will become good estate agents says Hendrik Pieterse, the principal of the Leapfrog Eersterivier office. “When I heard about the Umbono program, I saw a golden opportunity to share my 32 years of knowledge with these students, knowing if they are successful that I’ve been successful. I experience the Umbono program as very positive since it is extremely difficult to recruit reliable agents,” he says.

“I recommend other agencies to take in Umbono students so that there could be more black agents in the market. The property market currently is 90% white and around 10% black,” adds Pieterse. In conclusion he says in his office he now has 11 black agents and 13 coloured agents. “The cooperation between the students and the full level status agents are remarkable and every day we learn something new,” he ends.

More about the Umbono program

Umbono is a non-profitable educational trust that in partnership with the Department of Public Works developed a training program to transform the property industry. The students referred to here are from the second group of students to participate in the training program. All the students placed at agencies receive a monthly stipend for a period of twelve months and the trust pays for their FFC and assists them financially to do their NQF4.

Next week we will look at some Umbono success stories and talk to more agencies about their experiences with the Umbono program.

Email comments or suggestions for stories to editor@propertyprofessional.co.za.

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