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How one estate agent began a movement

MAIN IMAGE: Jarette Petzer, founder of #ImStaying 

It takes only one match to light a fire – the #Imstaying Facebook group started by former estate agent Jarette Petzer has truly taken off – with more than 700k followers it is currently one of the 5th largest groups on the African continent.

It started as a simple act to do something positive. Capetonian real estate entrepreneur Jarette Petzer says a few months ago he made an adjustment in his own mind to stop being negative about all that was happening in the country. He shared this in a video which led to someone suggesting that he should start a group on Facebook.

On 7 September #ImStaying was started. In the group’s description Petzer wrote the group is dedicated to all South Africans that chose to grow and improve South Africa. He ends the description: “The group belongs to all willing to make positive difference!” His positivity clearly resonated. In the following weeks thousands joined the group on a daily basis and what had begun as a social media group is now called a movement by Petzer and his growing group of volunteer helpers. At present the group’s following is around 860K – just shy of 1 million.

In two months #ImStaying achieved a following of 860K, just shy of 1 million.

Why do you think the group is so successful?

“My belief is that the group resonates with a lot of South Africans because it offered hope at a time when a little bit of hope is exactly what we needed. And at the same time cut through the narrative of crime, fear and division like a knife, with a positive narrative of encouragement, upliftment and social cohesion,” Petzer says.

“Of course I was blown away by its uptake. I don’t think anyone could have imaged a group that went from zero to one of the fifth largest groups on the African continent in under two months,” he continues.

On the group people from all races, backgrounds and religions share daily events from their lives that inspired them or gave them renewed hope in their fellow countrymen. Often times people share about incidents where they were victims of crime or suffered loss but the support they received from fellow South Africans touched them and gave them renewed hope for a future here.

What about the naysayers?

There has been some criticism as well among others that the group is elitist but Petzer says he doesn’t concentrate on the negative. The group is about being positive after all.

“We are not focused on the naysayers. We never have been. We have 860 000 amazing human beings and counting who have bought into the vision of a brighter tomorrow. We will continue to focus on them and on our country, and on effecting real change. We are all in this together whether we like it or not. Some of us are willing to roll up our sleeves, and some of us would rather stand on the side lines and mock those trying to make a difference. Which one of those we want to be is a choice we can make and a choice we’ll have to live with at the end of the day,” explains Petzer.

To help him keep the trolls at bay Petzer has a group of 72 active volunteers that helps him to moderate the comments on the group and another 70 are in training.

Making a real difference

Petzer has since left the real estate business to focus all his attention on what started as a group on Facebook but has evolved into so much more since. As the group’s popularity grew, so grew the belief that the positive sentiment should be turned into action that will address unemployment and help to grow the economy.

Through a crowdfunding service they raised almost a R100K in less than two months. According to Petzer’s statement on the backabuddy website the funds raised in this way and through the sales of #ImStaying merchandise and events will all go towards “operational expenses and creating our own funds to help start and power small business in South Africa”.

Jared Petzer’s statement on the backabuddy website about the aims of their crowdfunding initiative.

He explains to Property Professional that this process is a completely transparent process as the funds and contributions are visible on the backabuddy website, and will be visible on their own website once it goes live. “The group will be responsible for how these monies are allocated but it is a little too soon to discuss the mechanics of how this all works,” Petzer explains.

“We will be making some significant announcements around these developments in due course. For now our priority is on our NGO registration which was finalized today (Wednesday 6 November), and the forming of our board which is almost complete and also soon to be announced,” he says.

Property leaders voice support

The positive impact of the #ImStaying group has caught the country by storm and property leaders have joined other business owners in voicing their support for this initiative. In a recent statement Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, said they recently met with the founders of the movement to see how they could get behind this cause.

“Anything that encourages positive sentiment and nation building is worth getting behind, which is why RE/MAX fully supports what this group is trying to do. We remain hopeful that as positive sentiment builds around this movement, we will see an upswing in the local housing market as more choose to invest locally rather than to emigrate,” Goslett explains.

He goes on to explain that local investment both in the local real estate sector and in the business sector is likely to increase as more South Africans adopt a positive view on their prospects in the country. “Movements like #ImStaying can therefore help to create the positivity that is required to aid transformation within our nation,” Goslett suggests.

Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa

Another supporter is Richard Hardie, CEO at Knight Frank South Africa. In a recent post on LinkedIn he called #ImStaying a brilliant movement adding that “more of this will only help us support our country and gain the momentum that is needed currently”.

When I asked him to expand on his comment, Hardie began by saying although there’s no denying the last two years have been a rough ride for the property market, he believes economies and their behaviour are cyclical. “It looks like we are seeing the green shoots for a recovery in the Cape Town property market,” he says.

He says in the last couple of weeks they’ve seen a real turn around in viewing numbers, offers made and deals agreed. The majority of deals are still in the lower end of the market, R2.5m to R5m, but he believes this will slowly creep up to the more expensive properties as summer draws near and the season for foreign buyers to visit South Africa.

Related reading: Lower end of property market has most of the action

“Sentiment locally has taken a turn for the better. Jarette Petzer’s #imstaying movement with a following of now 700k has really lifted the spirits of South African’s who love their country and will not be deterred because times have been tough. Solidarity in numbers has a history of success and it is really warming and encouraging to see so many people with the same vision for their country,” says Hardie.

Richard Hardie, CEO of Knight Frank South Africa.

I asked Petzer what he thinks about the possible impact that a more positive outlook on the country’s future could have on the local property market. Says Petzer, “I think restoration in investor confidence has already begun and the property data will start to reflect this very soon. But let me also say that South Africa is currently facing a housing crisis, and that agents and agencies will need to adapt to new housing trends as we strive to correct this. There is opportunity everywhere around us. It’s always simply a matter of perspective and our ability as individuals and as a collective to move with the times.”

And going forward, what can he share about what is in the pipeline? “We have big plans for the future sure, but for now we have some quick and exciting wins which we are working on getting out to the public in the way of events etc. Stay tuned for more,” ends Petzer.

So, to summarize, though there is no denying that as South Africans we are facing massive challenges such as high unemployment, a housing crisis, finding a remedy to Eskom’s debt etc to turn our ailing economy around, chosing to have a positive mindset seems like a good way to start to face up to the task of finding solutions. To spur us on, the Springboks have just won the Rugby World Cup, despite coming in as the underdogs in the tournament. They have shown the country what is possible if a team works together united around a common goal. Financial analysts are also hoping the euphoria over the Boks’ victory will inspire a renewed drive to unite to address the country’s massive economic, financial and social challenges.  The rand has already strengthened in the wake of the reprieve given by American ratings agency Moody’s by not downgrading South Africa’s credit score to junk.

May the positive momentum grow into the realisation of real economic growth.

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