South Africans are continuing to leave the country, new data shows

New data from lender FNB finds that pro-cyclical motives for selling homes in South Africa continue to recede gradually, which is a reflection of broad residential market softening since 2015.

In the FNB Estate Agent Survey, one of the questions asked to respondents is to provide an indication as to the key reasons for selling properties.

The eight categories of reasons for selling primary residential properties include:

  • Downscaling due to financial pressure;
  • Downscaling with life stage;
  • Emigrating;
  • Relocating to elsewhere in SA;
  • Upgrading;
  • Moving for safety and security reasons;
  • Change in family structure – death, divorce, etc;
  • Moving to be closer to amenities

Four of these selling motives FNB said it believe to be pro-cyclical. In other words, these motives should normally recede in significance as the housing market weakens, and vice versa when the market strengthens.

These four motives include selling to upgrade, selling to downscale due to life stage, selling to relocate to another region, and sellingto relocate closer to work or other amenities.

“In times of a weakening economy or rising interest rates, and resultant weakening in the housing market, fewer sellers may choose to upgrade to rising financial constraints and weaker confidence.

“Older sellers who reach a life stage where the home they have is too large for their purposes may aspire to sell to downscale, but a weaker market may cause a portion of them to delay this sale until they can achieve a better price at a later stage.

“A smaller portion may sell to relocate to another region in tougher economic times, due to less new employment and business opportunities to relocate to, and lower confidence levels may dissuade some from incurring the huge costs of relocating nearer to work or amenities for the time being,” property sector strategist at FNB, John Loos.

He noted that all four pro-cyclical selling motives make up 47.61% of total home selling in the third quarter of 2018. This represents a decline from 49.34% in the previous quarter, and is noticeably down from a multi-year high of 61% in the second quarter of 2014.

Of concern, economic stagnation since 2012, and a gradual rise in interest rates from early-2014 to early-2016, has brought about a gradual rise in financial stress-related selling since around 2016, FNB said.

“The estimated percentage of sellers “selling to downscale due to financial pressure” was 16.3% in the third quarter of 2018, which is up from 15% in the previous quarter and now noticeably higher than the 11% low as at the 3rd quarter of 2015.

“However, this percentage does remain moderate compared to the 34% high reached in the 2nd quarter of 2009, at the end of the 2008/9 recession and just after previous interest rate hiking cycle peak,” Loos said.

The survey respondents may be suggesting a significant deterioration in the confidence levels of those sellers downscaling due to financial pressure as a group, though, he said.

“We say this because the agents believe that within the category of sellers selling to downscale due to financial pressure, the estimated percentage of those intending to ‘rent down’ as opposed to ‘buy down’ has increased noticeably, from 40% in the first quarter of 2017 to 65.6% in the third quarter of 2018.”

A key concern that remains is the ongoing uptick in emigration-related home selling, FNB said.

“The ‘selling to emigrate’ motive for selling is one that we have been watching closely in recent years, given signs of rising ‘social tensions’, along with recent years of economic growth stagnation in South Africa,” said Loos.

“And indeed, our survey respondents have been pointing towards a gradual rise in the percentage of sellers selling to emigrate, from a low of 2% back in the final quarter of 2013 to 8.6% of total selling by the third quarter of 2018.”

This is not yet extreme when compared to the estimate reaching as much as 20% at a stage of 2008, but that 2008 market was a very thin market. “However, the rising trend is a concern from an economic performance point of view, as emigration-related home selling in many instances represents highly skilled labour departing for foreign shores,” the property expert said.

Concluding, FNB said that the broad picture emanating from its Home Selling Estate Agent Survey remains one of financial constraints and caution, in an environment of economic weakness and uncertainty.

“We believe that the still-high level of selling to downscale due to life stage is not only driven by strong growth in the size of the older middle and upper income population numbers, but also due to a sizeable group of the ageing population wanting to ‘offload’ larger homes, that are increasingly costly to operate, in favour of smaller and less costly homes.

“However, in recent quarters this group’s percentage has been down from an early-2017 high, which could mean a portion of ageing home owners deciding to postpone such downscaling until a later stage when the market is hopefully a better sellers market than the current time.” Loos said.

A sign of relative caution these days is the relatively low level of selling to upgrade homes compared with 2013/2014. A greater portion of home owners thus seem intent on ‘staying put’ for the time being.

Relocating to another region has declined noticeably in the past two quarters’ surveys, probably starting to reflect a decline in new economic opportunities to relocate to in a recessionary environment. And relocating closer to places of employment and amenities has seen a significant decline since 2014, reflecting more cautious and financially constrained households perhaps ‘staying put’ for the time being in greater numbers, the lender said.


Read: Here’s how many South Africans are leaving for New Zealand

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