Housing market in the healthiest position since the economic downturn

The South African housing market is in the healthiest position since 2009, says Seeff chairman, Samuel Seeff. 

We are in a much healthier position than in 2009 and even 2010 when market activity was buoyed by the positive sentiment of the FIFA Soccer World Cup. Seeff's year-to-date sales figures for example are not only 18% up on last year, but the best since 2007. Despite the fact that the winter months are historically a quieter period, our July national sales turnover of just under R1 billion is not only the best in recent years, but about 20% higher than in 2007.

National sales volumes have settled down over the last two years at just over 19,100 monthly transactions on average; 5% higher than the 2010 monthly average of 18,255 and 16% higher than the 2009 average of 16,452. Bond registrations have also strengthened to an average of around 14,450 monthly registrations, about 7-8% more than the 2012 average of 13,374 and the 2009 average of 13,530, says Seeff. Leading mortgage originator, ooba for example recently reported that its bond approvals were up in August by 24% on a year-on-year basis and up by 227% over the corresponding period in 2009.

This year in particular, we have seen the balance between supply and demand improve and, indications are that we are moving closer to a position of equilibrium in the primary housing market, although still predominantly in the sub-R1,5 million sector, says Seeff. Nationwide, our branches are reporting more buyers at show days with some areas noting about 40% more buyers than last year. For the first time since pre-2007/8, offers are now being taken on show days, continues Seeff. Major stock shortages have become an almost universal challenge for estate agents countrywide.

While the macroeconomic environment is still not conducive to induce a real recovery of the property market, conditions are healthy for both buyers and sellers. For buyers, it is still the best time to buy in over three decades and, since there has been no major capital appreciation over the last few years and the interest rate is still at a historic low, the value on offer is outstanding. Conversely, now is a good time to sell. Well-priced properties are not only moving, but they are moving fast. In some instances sellers are getting multiple offers with many deals being concluded at quite close to the asking price.
Prices though are likely to remain flat for the foreseeable future as buyers, largely for economic reasons are just not able to put in bigger offers. 

Looking at FNB's recent House Price Index for example, the bank reports marginal growth in the August rate to 6,4%, a slight improvement on the 6,3% reported in July. While the interest rate has been flat for the last year, Seeff says that it now looks as if bondholders may need to prepare for a rate hike sooner than expected. The weakening of the Rand by about 30% since the start of the year, may prompt the Reserve Bank to increase the rate before the end of this year to strengthen the Rand, he says.

Indications are that we are heading towards a healthy summer trading period, but with a potential interest rate hike looming, buyers should perhaps consider fixing their interest rate. They may initially pay a premium for this, but Seeff says that it will provide certainty and will level out over time.

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