Estate agents support foreign property ownership

Bill Rawson - Rawson Properties
It is a safe bet, says Bill Rawson, President of the Institute of Estate Agents of South Africa, that almost no estate agency principal in South Africa – white or black – agrees with President Thabo Mbeki that foreign ownership of property should be curtailed or made more difficult.

“Foreign buyers have, in my view, been wholly beneficial to the South African economy,” said Rawson, “and estate agents believe there is no justification for making it more difficult for them to live here. We are sending out the wrong message if we follow this path.”

The announcement in the President’s State of the Nation address that foreign ownership regulations would be reviewed, said Rawson in a Cape Town interview, appears to be a political vote catcher.

“It is particularly unfortunate that it was made ahead of the long-awaited report by Shadrack Gutto, director of the Centre for African Renaissance Studies at Unisa and a specialist in Law and Land Reform, which most of us believe will be based on the economic effects of this type of ownership – not on emotive statements.”

Foreign property owners, said Rawson, already contribute significantly to the state coffers by paying substantial transfer fees and capital gains taxes – the latter at a higher rate than South African citizens. In addition, many use local banks fund half of the property’s purchase price.

“The idea of these people being idle with too much time and cash on their hands is generally skewered,” said Rawson. “Most of those to whom we have sold houses are now contributing very usefully to our society.”

The real threat to the average SA citizen, particularly one in the lower or lower middle class, said Rawson, comes not from foreign property buyers (most of whom are from Europe or the USA) but from African immigrants who have proved adept at muscling in on the local job market and ousting citizens who have a “right” to such work.

“There is a whole range of issues here,” said Rawson, “and I have heard arguments for and against immigrant labour. The truth, however, is that these people have often made life more difficult for SA citizens in a job market that is still incapable of employing sufficient people.

Rawson speculates that foreign ownership could be a red herring designed to distract people’s attention from the really emotive issue of land claims.

“The government does not appear to have fully come to grips with this very tricky problem,” said Rawson, “but the electorate have never let it drop. There is still a strong groundswell of discontent among people looking to have land claims settled on the grounds that at some stage in the last half century – or more – they or their forebears were evicted from land which had always been rightfully theirs. This matter will eventually have to be dealt with and we can only hope that it is equitably resolved than has been the case in some african countries.”
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