Major trends that are likely to shape Africa’s property market in the future show that the property sector is getting smarter. It is responding to infrastructure and social challenges, and easing the ability to do business on the continent. These trends also reveal exciting opportunities for property investment across its multiple distinct markets.
Future homes are smaller, smarter and greener
Affordability, convenience and security are the key factors driving a distinct buyer preference at the moment for smaller homes packed with “green” features and “smart” technologies.
That’s the word from Rudi Botha, CEO of BetterBond, SA’s biggest bond originator, who says that affordability remains a serious concern for most buyers because they are still labouring under relatively heavy debt loads and worried about rising taxes and the increasing cost of food, fuel and utilities. “SA consumers are much more conservative spenders than they used to be and really careful now about getting in over their heads.
“Consequently, while the banks are keen to lend to homebuyers and our bond approval rate is at 80%, the highest level since the 2008/ 09 financial crash, the latest statistics from Absa show that the total of outstanding household mortgage balances is currently growing more slowly than it did last year. The year-on-year growth rate is down from 3,6% in November 2017 to 3,1% currently.”
This does not mean, he says, that South Africans are buying fewer homes – only that they are buying less expensive homes. “This is confirmed by our own statistics*, which show that more than three-quarters (78%) of the bonds granted in the past 12 months have been for less than R1,5m – and that 60% were actually for less than R1m.
“In general terms, these cheaper homes are also smaller, as indicated by recent FNB research showing that the average size of new homes being built in SA has shrunk from a peak of 203sqm in 1974 to around 162sqm now – and that accounts in large measure for the current slow growth in home prices (2,9% year-on-year) in spite of a drop in the prime interest rate and increased sales volumes.”
However, Botha says, affordability is not the only reason for the increased popularity of smaller, cheaper homes. “Changing lifestyles also play a big role. Household sizes are shrinking, for example, so buyers generally need fewer bedrooms. Many homeowners now are also short of time so don’t want a large garden or home to maintain. Traffic congestion is also driving a significant shift from the large homes of the suburbs to smaller homes in urban centres.
There are four sectors that you can benefit from as an investor:
1. Industrial Property
Due to a lack of professionally managed logistics infrastructure and inefficient supply chains across sub-Saharan Africa, logistics cost as a percentage of product retail costs is still very high at 30-40%.
According to Toby Selman, CEO for Africa Logistics Properties, there is currently almost no grade-A warehousing on the continent.
“It tends to be the ugly duckling in the property sector as most investors flock to offices and retail first. And while most investors think the highest demand comes from multinationals, it is the fast-growing regional companies that tend to be the first movers, largely because they have higher local growth rates than the international companies. We see the main demand for our facilities from e-commerce, third-party logistics companies, product distributors and retailers,” he says.
Africa Logistics Properties believe they are helping to solve the logistics infrastructure challenge with their privately-financed distribution and industrial facilities for the rental market.
“We are disrupting the status quo with our modern logistics and distribution warehouses, offering businesses the chance to consolidate existing go-down based operations into a purpose-built grade-A facility at an affordable cost for the very first time.”
2. Affordable Housing
While governments can no longer afford to ignore the housing crisis, developers are coming to understand that low-cost housing can be a significant and lucrative market. Innovative financing structures backed by global institutional investors could also allow large-scale implementation.
But a pressing issue many African countries face is the lack of durable, low-cost housing with a minimum standard of infrastructure to prevent the spread of diseases.
“The target group for low-cost housing, in general, does not have enough equity or credit history to finance the purchase of even low-cost dwelling units. Without innovative financing solutions there can be no mass supply of low-cost dwelling units,” says Eckardt M.P. Dauck, Chairman for Zero Carbon Designs Ltd.
To address challenges around quality, Zero Carbon Designs has developed solutions that are based on a local value chain including raw-material sourcing, planning, manufacturing, and construction.
“Our processes ensure job creation and income within the country, while products are manufactured under strict quality controls. They are scalable, allowing for large numbers of housing units to be built, and they quick to construct, ensuring project finance costs are low, and they are also sustainable, environmentally friendly and carbon neutral,” he says.
3. Student Accommodation
Student accommodation is very much emerging in greater Africa, with the supply of student housing still low on the continent, South Africa being the exception.
Craig McMurray, Respublica CEO, says that while there are regional and nodal hotspots across all geographies, the African continent primarily sees domestic student demand and one where the highest need is an affordable product.
“This is in contrast to the more developed markets in Europe, UK, and Australia, which are primarily driven by international student demand and generally higher levels of affordability,” he says.
Respublica started out eight years ago with their first facility of 300 beds and will be nearing 10,000 beds across the country by January next year.
“We believe that the demand for tertiary education will likely be driven by increasing urbanisation, higher living standards, mobility, as well as technological advancement in educational content delivery. This will have differing implications for the industry. However, I expect the demand trend to be upwardly steep but continually constrained by affordability at state, university and student levels,” notes McMurray.
4. Serviced Apartments
Serviced apartments in Africa represent less than 1% of all hotel rooms whereas internationally the figure is close to 9%. Currently, the highest concentration is in South Africa.
The Capital, which dominates the South African market, has combined serviced apartments with its regular hotel and conferencing to give their clients all the services of a hotel such as security, flexibility of stay length, room service, and a concierge at the same high standard expected in 4- and 5-star hotels.
“Due to historic undersupply, serviced apartments are increasing. Africa requires a secure and affordable alternative to regular hotels for consultants to stay for the many projects in Africa as the continent, unfortunately, imports a lot of skills internationally,” says Marc Wachsberger, Managing Director for The Capital.
While there is no shortage of long-stay accommodation available, not all experiences are equal. The Capital’s model, which has taken 10 years to develop, emphasises operational skills to ensure that extended stay is positioned correctly in the market.
“In the SA context it must be said that smaller properties are usually also easier and less expensive to secure, and the effect of this concern can clearly be seen
not only in the increasing number of estate developments, but also in the steady growth of Sectional Title in SA over the past 30 years. In the late 1980s, secure sectional title developments accounted for only 6% of new builds in the country, but today they account for 27% of all new homes.”
The quest for greater security and personal safety, he says, is also one of the main factors driving the current rapid uptake of “smart” home technologies in SA. “Using these technologies, owners can monitor their alarm systems and security cameras via their smart-phones even when they are not at home, photograph any intruders, open or close garage doors and gates, and turn lights on and off to make it seem as though there is someone at home.
“This is definitely appealing to SA homeowners and according to Statista, the overall value of the smart home automation market in SA is expected to top US$60m by 2020. Meanwhile, there is already sufficient demand for local security companies such as Fidelity ADT to have introduced security-focused smart home packages.”
And finally, says Botha, the trend towards smaller homes is being driven by a growing awareness among SA homebuyers of what it costs in environmental terms to run a larger home. “Cape Town residents have seen, for example, how much water can be saved just through more conscious usage, while the threat of renewed rolling blackouts this winter is causing many others to revisit the drawbacks of electricity derived from fossil fuels.
“As a result there is rising demand for smaller homes that use less energy and water and are already fitted with ‘green’ equipment such as heat pumps, solar panels and rainwater tanks. And some of the banks now even have special home loan options for owners who want to retrofit such ‘green’ systems, because doing so definitely adds value to their properties.”