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As property professionals were only expected to start working under level 2, it was a joyous turn of events for the real estate sector to be granted permission to leave their offices to sell property again

“After weeks and weeks, late nights and early mornings by many people in the industry, we’ve managed to finally open a door,” says regional director and CEO, RE/MAX of Southern Africa, Adrian Goslett, about the reopening of the real estate sector.

“We’re only at the start line now of a long recovery ahead. Relentless tenacity, an impeccable work ethic, unquestionable skill, experience and an unbridled passion for the clients we serve will determine our success as we forge ahead in these uncertain times.”

The who and how

Under level 3 regulations, most estate agents are permitted to operate normally since 1 June, except for short-term home-sharing, letting, leasing and rental for leisure purposes, explains Lavashnee Mandry, senior associate: property department, Adams and Adams.

“As estate agents are a vital link in property transactions, this news will be welcomed by  homeowners who want to sell their properties, as well as buyers, tenants and other industry players such as banks, mortgage originators and attorneys,” she says.

Safety first

Businesses that are permitted to operate under alert level 3 are, however, subject to strict compliance with health protocols and social distancing measures. These include mandatory wearing of face masks, using hand sanitisers, daily screening of employees etc. The return to work should be phased in to put in place these measures, Mandry says.

Tony Clarke, MD, Rawson Property Group, says the whole industry has been working around the clock to create the safest possible plan of action, “to allow people to put a roof over their headswithout risking their health and safety”.

Goslett reiterates the necessity to adhere to prescribed safety protocols. “We need to make sure we capitalise on this opportunity safely. It’s imperative that protocols are followed strictly to ensure the safety of our clients, our colleagues and our agents,” he says.

Industry body Rebosa (Real Estate Business Owners of South Africa) prepared a safety protocol for property professionals and advises, among other things, that the viewing of show houses should only be allowed by appointment and should be limited to one or two sellers.

According to Carl Coetzee, CEO, BetterBond, putting all the necessary health and safety measures in place will not only provide peace of mind to all concerned, “but will also reinstate trust in our industry, and demonstrate our commitment to making a meaningful and constructive contribution to restarting the economy”.

Many to benefit

It’s extremely positive that the real estate industry is to be fully operational again, as this sector makes a meaningful contribution to the country’s economy, taxes and employment, says Andrew Golding, chief executive, Pam Golding Property group. Many people aspire to own a home, as ownership provides security of tenure and a nest egg for the future.

“In addition, estate agents are largely dependent on commission-based income for their survival, while a host of other related sectors including financial institutions, mortgage originators, conveyancers, construction and engineering companies, among others, directly and indirectly derive income and employment,” he says.

Coetzee adds that the opening of the property sector is particularly good news for buyers, and investors too, as the prevailing market conditions are geared to favour residential property buyers. “With interest rates at a 50-year low, and the threshold on transfer duty raised to R1m earlier this year, upfront expenses when purchasing a property are lower, making it a buyer’s market for sure.”

Virtual viewings are here to stay

In terms of viewings of homes for sale, the Pam Golding Property group will continue to make use of high-quality virtual tours, iShow days, as well as other technological innovations, which they’ve found successful during lockdown.

“However, where a buyer wants to physically view the property, we’ll make the necessary arrangements and follow the strict protocol guidelines as set out by the authorities,” Golding says.

Rawson Properties, like many others, have also been fine-tuning their suite of digital tools to facilitate more comprehensive virtual services than ever before. “These include virtual valuations, virtual show houses and live virtual tours, all of which will continue to be leveraged to minimise human contact when the industry ramps back up to full operations,” says Clarke.

Tribute to sector lobbyists

Industry leaders in the real estate sector lobbied on behalf of the thousands of property professionals unable to earn an income from the sale of property to have the entire value chain of real estate services operating under level 3. These include the National Property Practitioners Council (NPPC), Samuel Seeff (Seeff), Tony Clarke (Rawson), Adrian Goslett (RE/MAX), Richard Gray (Harcourts), Herschel Jawitz (Jawitz Properties), Rebosa, and the EstateAgency Affairs Board (EAAB).

The efforts by the real estate sector were also supported by industry representative bodies from the legal profession, valuators, mortgage brokers and the banking sector who all made submissions to government.

However, according to Clarke, the discussions with government are far from over. “Our goal is to have the industry formally reclassified as a level 4 service to ensure continuity, should hotspot flare-ups cause a return to stricter lockdowns. We don’t want to end up in a situation where new leases or sales are paused halfway through the process because we went back to level 4 lockdown,” he says.

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