The South African Property Situation Right Now

Absa just released their Mortgage Advances ( – and Housing Review Q1 08 Reports ( When I read it this morning, I had a few thoughts on the topic of property.Everybody seems to be complaining bitterly: Homeowners about the expected 0.1% year on year real price growth on average housing in 2008 and the banks about the prevailing mortgage advance growth of 23.1%. But if you take a journey back in time, you cannot help but wonder whether this is not a matter of complaining with a white bread tucked away under the arm.

The truth of the matter is that house pricing, after growing at less than 0% – yep, negative growth – towards the end of 1999, went through an unprecedented growth period until last year with the average house increasing in real value terms by between 15% and 17% year on year. A further truth is that the banks have forgotten that once upon a time, in 2000, they showed a 4% year on year growth in mortgage advances. Now, a bad case scenario projection for 2008 is just short of an average of 16% year on year, and that is the NCA, the 9.4% CPIX inflation and the volatile Rand in spite.

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves from time to time that playing the property game is not about turning a quick buck. The recent boom created this very expectation because many property dabblers made a decent stash within a very short period of time. This is the exception, not the rule. Property is and will always be a really good medium to long term investment – for those that have the patience to wait. For those that don’t consider patience as one of their virtues, the stock market is a higher risk, but quicker return option.

One of the great things about the property game is that even when the market is depressed, you will have the opportunity to make worthy investments. You just have to select a different battle field and employ a different strategy. For example, right now you would do well with a couple of buy to let properties in the right areas and at the right price. You could also engage with the Zimbabwe situation and, if the MPC really manages to oust the despotic Mugabe regime, you may even want to stake a claim to a piece of land there as a potentially lucrative medium term investment.

For those that prefer the security of a South African venture, the outlook is not as bleak as the prophets of doom make it out to be: The Rand has already started firming up, which should support our wobbly inflation rate. Oil is back down to below $100. If it can remain there, food inflation should improve, which should also contribute to taking some of the wobble out of our CPIX. If this happens, the interest rates will have to come down. I am not promising a drastic reduction, but who will say no to paying 0.5% to 1% less on their bond? I, for one, will be only too happy.

Finally, there is a marketplace in the desert called the Soccer World Cup 2010. I for one am in two minds whether this place is a mirage or an oasis. Those in the know seem to believe it is the real McCoy, and are buying and furnishing multiple properties in the CBDs.

Whether this is wisdom or folly, only time will tell. What really matters is getting a bit more upbeat about certain things: the wheel turns and, after a lengthy 3-and-a-half-year downturn, perhaps the property wheel is about to start its upturn again.