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Estate agencies monitor spread of coronavirus in SA

MAIN IMAGE: Berry Everitt, CEO Chas Everitt International Property group; Steve van Wyk, managing director Seeff Centurion; Myles Wakefield, CEO Wakefield Real Estate.

All South Africans, including the real estate sector, are following closely the latest news on the global and expected local economic impact following the rapid spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) across the globe.

This week international ratings agency Moody’s said they predict a worldwide recession as more countries are forced to impose restrictive measures to curb the infection rate of the virus. The World Health Organisation (WHO) this week declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic.

Just as it appeared that China had gained control over the spreading of the disease there with the number of new cases reported dropping, the infection rate in Europe, especially Italy appears to be increasing at an alarming rate. Italy on Wednesday had more than 12 000 confirmed cases, the highest infection rate outside of China, the country where the novel virus made it’s first appearance in December. The US this week announced a ban on travel from most of Europe to the US for a month. Other countries such as Australia has also instituted travel bans from countries most affected by the disease.

South Africa last week had it’s first confirmed coronavirus case and since then the number of confirmed cases has risen to a total of 17. Local health authorities are keeping a close watch on the spread of the virus and are asking that people remain calm and not panic. Misinformation reports on social media has exacerbated the situation.

Global impact on the real estate industry

The worldwide spread of the disease has also had it’s impact on the real estate industry. Not surprisingly the real estate sector in China ground to a standstill as people were forced to self-quarantine in certain areas, factories and schools were closed and strict travel restrictions were applied to and from the more infected areas.

As the disease spread across the globe, so the real estate sectors in other countries were also affected. In Australia there is mounting concern over the impact the spreading of the disease may have on the real estate sector as people become too scared to attend open houses and public auctions. They are already seeing buyers attend the latter wearing masks and people that refuse to take flyers for fear of infection.

On the contrary in the US the viral outbreak has so far had a positive impact on the real estate market as mortgage rates have dropped to all time lows. Forbes reported a 224% increase in reapplications for home financing and estate agents report they are busy as first time buyers capitalize on the favourable financing conditions. Property experts have also predicted an increased interest in residential property as more people may choose to work from home to limit the risk of exposure to the virus.

Novel coronavirus situation on 12 March 2020 at 06:00. Source: WHO

Early days in South Africa

In South Africa the spread of the disease is still very limited, but the impact of the global situation is already being felt in the property construction and clothing industry due to delays with imported goods from highly affected countries such as China.

It is still early to predict what the impact will be on the local real estate market but estate agencies say they are keeping a close eye on developments. Chas Everitt has decided to postpone its National Leadership Conference and Gala Awards events which were due to be held next week.

The company released a statement saying they are the first SA real estate company to halt a major event in response to the Covid-19 disease and that  all its franchisees, sales agents and staff have been asked to refrain from all non-essential international and domestic air travel for the time being, and to convert scheduled meetings into electronic interactions whenever possible.  

“The decision to postpone was not an easy one to make,” says CEO Berry Everitt, “especially as we are also celebrating our 40th anniversary this year and were looking forward to welcoming many international as well as local guests to our conference.”  

Everitt continues that they felt they simply could not take the chance of someone becoming infected at the event and then passing the virus on to their family, friends, colleagues or clients.  

“And while we place the highest value on networking, relationships and face-to-face communications, we had to consider the risk factors for delegates and guests that are beyond our control on public transport and in public venues and accommodation establishments,” says Everitt.

Steve van Wyk, managing director of Seeff Centurion says at this point they are not overly concerned about the virus, but they are continuously monitoring the situation.

“If the virus spreads at a rapid rate it could impact the property market, but it is very difficult to determine the exact influence on property prices and the number of sales as many economic factors play a role here. If the virus spreads at an alarming rate we would have to cancel show houses and ensure that our agents take preventative measures such as regular washing and sanitizing of hands, wearing face masks and limiting physical contact with sellers and buyers in addition to ensuring that their hands do not touch their face, etc.,” Van Wyk says.

The first confirmed case of infection from the coronavirus in South Africa was a man from Hilton, near Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu Natal. The number of confirmed cases in this province has since increased to seven – all of them people who recently returned from traveling to Europe.

Wakefields Real Estate is based in the province and does business in Hilton and the surrounding area. Their CEO Myles Wakefield, says they took immediate preventative steps to assist their staff and clients with added hygiene measures, and they produced information posters to be placed strategically in every office and reception desk, along with hand sanitizers. He says all their staff have been fully briefed on the situation and are following the protocols put in place.

“No doubt though, that if the situation escalates, it will certainly have a massive impact on the property market. It’s a people-centric business, and although there are undoubtedly aspects of it which can be managed in isolation, the heart of our business is personal interaction. As a business, we’ve taken the first step, and we won’t hesitate to implement further contingency plans should the situation deteriorate.

For now – and that includes the Hilton area – there’s little change of pace in property market activity, but of course, that can alter, and we’ll do whatever it takes to ensure the health and safety of staff and clients,” ends Wakefields.

Property Professional will continue to keep you updated on this matter.

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