Credit Act Gets Blame for Home Sales Slump

The number of property sales in Cape Town in the past few months is sharply down, and foreign buyers' enthusiasm for luxury homes in the city is waning, say estate agents.

They blame rising interest rates and the cumbersome provisions of the National Credit Act for the local situation, and crime and a global economic slowdown affecting foreign buyers.

But several agents believe the downturn is a temporary one, and that things will be looking up again by the first quarter of next year.

First National Bank's residential property barometer survey of estate agents showed that 75% of sellers across the country had failed to get their asking price.

It cited the National Credit Act as having a significant impact in slowing the pace of mortgage approvals, especially for lower-income earners. Other negative factors include rising interest rates, no personal-tax and transfer-duty relief this year after quite a windfall last year, and a gently slowing economy.

John Loos, FNB's property strategist, said: "I believe that 2007 is so far the worst year of what is probably the best decade on record. But the situation is still good because downturns in an accelerating economic growth environment are not nearly as rough as downturns back in the 80s and early 90s when the economy was stagnating."

In short, by historic property downturn standards, it looked set to "remain a pretty good story where real house-price inflation can continue for the most part".

Despite the problems, Loos did not believe "a crash was on the horizon". He remained optimistic that early next year there would be a gradual recovery as interest rates hit their peak.

A further 50 basis-point hike was expected before the global and local economic growth began to turn the corner for the better.

He confirmed that foreign buyers were losing enthusiasm for local properties, and said this could be due to the threat of foreign buyer restrictions in South Africa and a global economic slowdown.

Bill Rawson, chairman of Rawson Properties, said there had been a major drop in property sales in the past three months, but there had still been an increase in the rand value of properties sold. It was currently a buyer's market as the market had stabilised.

The new credit act and interest rates were having a negative impact on sales, especially in the lower- and middle-income bracket.

"Interest rate hikes on a bond of R500 000 have led to a monthly increase of R1 000 on repayments. This is a lot of money for this sector. Interest rates have increased far too fast, making it difficult for entry-level buyers."

Estate agent Willie Oosthuizen of Homeright Properties in the northern suburbs said he had noticed less demand for lower-income property as buyers were no longer qualifying for loans for which they would previously have qualified.

The foreign buyers' market had quietened down in the past 18 months by a whopping 90% in his turf.

"I dealt with foreign buyers daily but I have not dealt with one in the past three to four months."

He attributed this slowdown to foreign buyers' concerns over Cape Town's crime rate.

Carina Nieuwoudt of the Realty 1 IPG agency's northern suburbs office, said property in the higher ranges had been most affected.

"We had one home on the market for R3.7 million, which sold for R2.9m. Another one was on the market for R5.3m, eventually selling at R4.2m."

Six months ago there was "a seller's market, now it is more favourable for buyers".

But Pam Golding's chief executive officer Andrew Golding said he did not see the recent slowing down of the market as "a downturn", as property prices had been appreciating this year by 10% to 12%.

But he warned that the effects of the new credit act would "become apparent over the next few months". He also attributed the cooling down of the residential property market to interest rate hikes and it being mid-winter.

"Because these have occurred simultaneously, it is difficult to attribute the slowdown to any one factor. I believe the current trading conditions will continue for the next six months. By the first quarter next year I anticipate there will be an increase in the number of transactions made."

Mike Bester, chief executive officer of Reality 1 IPG, said the residential property slow-down was not caused by a lack of interest.

"It's not because people don't want to buy houses, but because they cannot get a loan."

He believed the slump was temporary because there was a huge need for property, and economic growth was good.

He believed the affordability issue would be worked through in the next few months.

Article by: Kylie Walker and Melanie Peters -