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Real estate agents can work again!

MAIN IMAGE: Vuyiswa Mutshekwane, chairperson National Property Practitioners Council (NPPC); Samuel Seeff, chairman Seeff Property Group; Tony Clarke, MD Rawson Property Group; Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO RE/MAX Southern Africa

The Covid-19 crisis united South Africa’s real estate sector as never before in our history and the hard work has paid off – on Monday 1 June all property professionals may once again go outside to sell properties on condition of adhering to strict safety protocols to keep them and the buyers and sellers safe from infection with the novel coronavirus.

Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma on Thursday 28 May announced the regulations that will apply during Alert Level 3 from 1 June. According to these most businesses and other institutions in the public and economic sector may return to work with only a few exceptions such as those in personal care services. This means that all property professionals may leave their homes for work purposes again come 1 June subject to adherence to strict health and safety protocols.

The new regulations stipulate the strict health and safety requirements that all businesses that are reopening will have to adhere to. They include the following:

  • All industries, businesses and entities must have a designated Covid-19 compliance officer
  • Every business must have a plan for the phased return of their employees to the workplace
  • Employees 60 years and older and/or with co-morbidities such as diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, cancer should work from home if they can
  • Adhere to social distancing measures and health protocols such as mandatory wearing of face masks, using hand sanitizers, daily screening of employees etc
  • Evictions remain prohibited with certain exceptions as granted by the courts
  • Short-term leases for leisure purposes remain prohibited

Find the Rebosa Covid-19 Workplace Readiness Guidelines here

Paying tribute to the sector’s lobbyists

The fact that the entire real estate sector may return to work during Alert Level 3, subject to adherence to government’s strict safety and hygiene protocols, is in line with government’s stated objective to reopen the country’s economy as quickly and safely as possible to alleviate the devastating impact from loss of jobs and income due to the efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic. However, it would not be amiss to pay tribute to the hard work and tireless efforts put in by many in the property sector to bring relief to thousands of property professionals who couldn’t earn an income for the past two months as a result of the lockdown.

The exclusion of residential estate agents sparked an unprecedented united effort from the entire property sector to lobby on behalf of the thousands of property professionals unable to earn an income from the sale of property. The sector’s new representative body, the National Property Practitioners Council (NPPC), under the leadership of Vuyiswa Mutshekwane, as their first order of business made a written submission to government on 27 April to reclassify real estate services as a Level 4 industry.

Commenting on the latest welcome news, Mutshekwane in a statement welcomed the announcement and said they are pleased that the National Coronavirus Command Council had heard their concerns and given the real estate sector the greenlight to resume operations. “As the largest national industry trade association we are deeply committed to ensuring and prioritising the health and safety of property practitioners, customers and suppliers’ as we navigate new ways of working to fully safeguard livelihoods, restore operations and support the country’s economy.  Accordingly, we are convinced that, with the measures we have recommended, the real estate sector is equipped for a safe return to work,” says Mutshekwane.

She adds that the NPPC, through its various member organisations have developed a comprehensive set of health and safety guidelines for the real estate sector. Principals and practitioners have been encouraged to adopt these guidelines and create their own Standard Operating Procedures for all employees returning to work. Protocols have also been developed for property viewings together with client consent forms and tracking and tracing procedures in line with international best practice.

“The real estate transaction process requires a relatively low level of human interaction compared to other sectors which will be permitted to operate at level 3. We have carefully assessed the risk of transmission for the real estate sector and believe that the proposed interventions will go a long way to mitigating the spread of Covid-19,” ends Mutshekwane.

Industry leaders such as Samuel Seeff, Tony Clarke, Adrian Goslett, Richard Gray and Herschel Jawitz, all directors of Rebosa, played an instrumental role in lobbying government to reopen not only the real estate sector, but also the entire value chain of real estate services.

The Rawson Property Group’s contributions include the formulation of proposed workplace plans and viewing safety protocols now adopted as the official stance by the Real Estate Business Owners of South Africa (Rebosa). Rawson’s managing director Tony Clarke himself was also responsible for a widely-shared open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa, which has assisted in opening an ongoing dialogue with key decision-makers.

“Real estate is such a huge contributor to the South African economy, and the source of countless jobs, both directly and indirectly,” says Clarke. “We felt it was our duty to bring these facts and figures to the attention of the ‘powers that be’, and make sure they fully understood the repercussions of not allowing real estate to operate – safely, of course.”

Goslett actively lobbied for the reconsideration of the Level 3 restrictions and wrote to DHS minister Lindiwe Sisulu asking that residential real estate be allowed to open since gardening and pool services are allowed. Says Goslett: “This is good news for the real estate industry and the country as a whole. After weeks and weeks, late nights and early mornings by many people in the industry, we have managed to finally open a door. We need to make sure we capitalise on this opportunity safely. There is still much to do, which is why we sent out a Covid-19 Workplace Plan template to all our offices earlier this week, together with recommended safety procedures and material to be used for display purposes when conducting business. It was stated in the speech that every office must have a plan available for inspection and that every person affiliated to the company must be made aware and understand the contents of the plan. It is imperative that protocols are followed strictly to ensure the safety of our clients, our colleagues and our agents.”

Seeff’s role included getting a vital impact study done by Associate Professor, François Viruly of the Urban Real Estate Research Unit at the University of Cape Town. This study provides landmark information on the size of the residential real estate sector and its economic contribution as well as the value chain supported by real estate transactions and the multiplier factor of about 1.9.

Rebosa CE Jan le Roux expressed his appreciation for the efforts made by saying that the Rebosa directors worked as a team during this crisis updating each other on developments as they happened. “I would especially like to thank Samuel Seeff of Seeff, Tony Clarke of Rawson’s and Adrian Goslett of RE/MAX for the extra lengths they went to, to knock on every door possible and to make the most of every presented opportunity to state the case for the industry. The results speak for itself.”

The Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB) via it’s CEO Mamodupi Mohlala also voiced support for the reopening of the property sector which left thousands of estate agents not only unable to earn an income from commission but also unable to access financial relief because they don’t contribute to UIF. The efforts by the real estate sector were also supported by industry representative bodies from the legal profession, valuators, mortgage brokers and banking sector who all made submissions to government for the reopening of the entire real estate value chain.

Seeff says he has his doubts whether the reopening of the real estate sector could really be attributed to all these excellent lobbying efforts. “It is ultimately a stroke of luck to be part of the opening of the economy by President Cyril Ramaphosa,” he says. Be that as it may, what can be agreed with Seeff is that the reopening of the real estate sector in Level 3 means this: “Estate agents can move quickly to do what they do best, market and sell houses and fill rental properties.”

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