Making Sense of Investment Options 

Making Sense of Investment Options 

Listed versus direct investment

Listed property in South Africa has had a tough 2018 this after most of the sector has traditionally brought double digit returns for investors. As a listed investor having direct control over your listed investments performance is not one its strengths. It has been a year of volatility and challenges in particular for listed companies Resilient and Nepi Rockastle which has had an negative overall effect on the overall listed property sector losing in some cases in excess of 20%. We weigh up the pros and cons on investing in each category.  

Better to buy to rent or invest in property stocks? 

You may spend your holidays thinking about owning buy-to-let, commercial, coastal property, or maybe you are considering increasing your property portfolio with a number of offshore investments. We consider whether it is easier and more lucrative to buy into Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). REITs are a security that trade like a stock on the major exchanges and invest in real estate directly, either through properties or mortgages. Individuals can invest in REITs either by purchasing their shares directly on an open exchange or by investing in a unit trust that specialises in public real estate. 

Dale Peckover at AlphaWealth states, “It’s easy to see why buy to rent is an attractive investment: you can see your bricks and cement and manage it in a way you just can’t do with shares. But there is a great deal of risk associated with rental income and it is very easy to overlook the real investment risks associated with buy to rent, the considerable costs you might incur, not to mention the drain this type of investment might have on your time. If you want to have the laid back life as a property investor, property stocks are the way to go.”   


1.The cost differential 

  REITs  Property 
Buying costs  Trade fees: 

Estimated at 

+/- 0.50% per trade 

Transfer fees:  
    R0 – R900 000: 0% 
    R900 001 – R1 250 000: 3% of the value above R750 000, but not exceeding R1 250 000 
    R1 250 001 – R1 750 000: R15 000 + 6% on the value above R1 250 000, but not exceeding R1  750 000 
    R1 750 001 – R2 250 000: R45 000 plus 8% on the value above R1 750 000, but not exceeding R2 250 000 

R2 250 001 and above:  R85 000 plus 11% of the value  above R2 250 000 

    Bank initiation and inspection fees: +/-R5 700 
    Electronic document generation charge: +/-R912 
    Post petties: R600 
    Deeds office search fees: R500 – R2 500 
    Bond costs 
    Conveyancer fees 
Ongoing costs  Custodian fee estimated:  

+/- R750 p.a. 

    Rates and taxes 
Selling costs  Trade fees:  

+/-0.50% per trade 

Estate agent commission: +/-7.5% plus VAT 
    Cost of electrical compliance certificates 
    Cancellation fee in respect of the cancellation of any outstanding portion of the bond 


2.Gearing and cost of debt 

If a bond is used to purchase your buy to rent property, this is essentially gearing or leverage i.e. the use of borrowed capital to generate/ increase the potential return of an investment. By investing in REITs, your gearing is still achieved, however at a much lower borrowing rate due to the borrowing being done by the REITs. Where individuals are able to borrow at prime or prime less 1%, REITs are able to borrow at a rate of at least prime less 2%. 


Default and loss risk  

When buying to rent, any borrowing to acquire your property is done in your personal capacity thus introducing the risk of default, being blacklisted and potentially losing more capital than you put in (i.e the amount you borrowed, the amount you put in as well as any outstanding interest). When buying property stocks, the borrowing is done by the REITs themselves. Therefore there is no debt in your personal capacity and thus no risk of default. Instead the risk you take on when you buy REITs is limited to the amount you invested – you can’t lose more than you put in.  

Increasing interest rates  

As illustrated below, interest rates are at historically low levels and may very well rise in the coming years. Even if they are not predicted to rise very far or even very fast, the rise in interest rates will directly impact your borrowing rate and as such your monthly repayments. The increase in monthly repayments is a real risk. This needs to be considered when taking on monthly repayments which may already be putting you under strain. 

When investing in REITs, the interest rate needs to be addressed by the REIT and not you. Many of the REITs are hedging or have already hedged a portion of their interest rate exposure to minimise their risk in an increasing interest rate environment. 

 Volatility risk  

REITs are stocks and are therefore subject to stock market volatility; however house prices also go up and down, although less frequently. Remember that during periods of market stress, residential property is not left unscathed. 

 Vacancy risk  

When you own a property, you face the risk of your tenant leaving, cancelling or not paying. Should any of these occur, you face the risk of loss of rental income and the cost of turnover, this could lead to having to outlay cash to fund other expenses/savings your rental income ordinarily covered. REITs also have vacancy risks and these cannot be avoided. REITs generally have management companies that try to assist in the alleviation of vacancies and the vacancy is not something you need to spend hours trying to resolve. 

4.Rental income versus REIT distributions 

Rental income is not guaranteed. Distributions from REITs are not guaranteed either. REITs however are affected by market sentiment coupled with market reputation that significantly reduces the likelihood of decreased or no distributions. 

 5.Diversification benefits 

With the price of property and all the other associated costs of buying, diversification of any sort is exceptionally difficult. REITs provide immediate diversification by the nature of the various property portfolios. These often consist of investments in a number of property types, including industrial properties, warehousing, offices, residential properties, shopping centres and many more.  

To further diversify, they are in different geographical regions (this includes offshore exposure) with different opportunities, tenants, growth possibilities, income streams and capital appreciation potential. It is also simple to gain more exposure to particular property types by investing in REITs that have more exposure to the property type you favour.   


Rental properties are not liquid. It could take months or years to sell a rental property and if you need to sell it quickly to raise cash, you might need to drop the price below the current market value to attract a buyer. REITs, by contrast, can be bought and sold with the click of a mouse. This makes them very liquid investments that can be quickly and easily converted to cash without losing substantial amounts of time and paying excessive fees. 

7.       Admin 

Buying a rental property isn’t solely a financial decision. You need to be prepared to screen tenants, run credit checks, collect rental, negotiate rental escalations, field complaints and get the geyser repaired right now. Alternatively you can use a sales or letting agent to take care of your administration but this will incur additional fees which will reduce your return. When you own a REIT, none of the admin is your concern. 

SOURCE: SA Reserve Bank; Alpha Wealth; SA Trading Economics 




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