COVID-19 Impact – Home Rental Market Recession

A staggering 88% of tenants believe that they will only be able to afford monthly rentals that’s reduced by 10% for the next 12 months, while more than a third of tenants say they would move for a better deal.

These are some of the findings of a survey conducted by digital rental platform, HouseME, among more than 1000 of its tenants and landlords in June and July, which show the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown and economic slowdown on the residential property market in stark black and white. 

The vast majority of landlords (85%) own bonded properties, so it’s unsurprising that 37% said they could not afford to self-fund more than one month of vacancy, with half of those landlords indicating that they could not fund even a single month of vacancy. However, despite the severity of the financial impact of the pandemic, 41% of landlords are expecting rentals to remain unchanged for the next 12 months and a surprising 24% expect rentals to increase. 

With 28% of tenants already having had their income negatively affected, either through job loss or salary reduction and 21% concerned about income security in the next six months, this mismatch of expectations between landlords and tenants is likely to cause tension when it comes to property pricing and negotiation.

Says Ben Shaw, CEO of HouseME, “A major concern for all landlords, banks and property managers is what will happen when the payment holidays end. Landlords who have had the benefit of delaying home loan repayments may now be forced to ruthlessly pursue rental to cover their payments. Tenants who have had the benefit of rental payment holidays could now be within days of default. Consequently, we expect the national default rate to spike in August and September and this will have a knock-on effect on property value, credit records and general affordability by the consumer.”

This tension is already beginning to show, with a quarter of all landlords surveyed listing non-payment of rental as their biggest worry going forward, followed by vacancies (19%) and late payments (16%). In line with these concerns, HouseME’s rental guarantee was the product rated as most attractive in the current market conditions. 

The economic recession is already biting hard among tenants, with some respondents saying that moving costs are prohibitive given their current liquidity position, and some even citing petrol and travel costs for viewings as a barrier. Supporting this is HouseME’s DepositFREE product, which has become a major drawcard for tenants as it frees up cash that would otherwise be tied up, and is becoming increasingly popular among landlords as leverage to attract applicants to their property. 68% of respondents said that access to video walk-throughs would reduce the need for in-person viewings, so may also pave the way for tenants to save whilst still looking for a new home.

Shaw says that that the pandemic has fast-tracked the move to digital, which is reflected in accelerated adoption of the HouseME platform. “We have seen an 80% jump in units advertised since the first quarter of the year; driven by larger property portfolios – all of whom are now moving digital, seeking the cost efficiencies of a long-term letting platform. Our listings climbed from an average of 400 pre-lockdown to more than 750 in July. This is partly due to the influx of fully-furnished holiday-let units now seeking long-term tenants because they can no longer rely on the short-term market for income. This increased supply is likely to further push down rental prices, particularly in major cities – both tourist and business centres – until tourism picks up again.”

Fast facts about the survey respondents:

·         Average ages: landlords 42 years, tenants 34 years. 

·         53% of properties owned by the landlords surveyed were in the Western Cape, 37% in Gauteng and 8% in KZN, while 66% of tenants surveyed reside in the Western Cape, 25% in Gauteng and 6% in KZN. 

·         59% of landlords earn between R20 000 and R70 000 per month (29% of whom earn R30 000 to R50 000), while 79% of tenants earn less than R30 000 per month (34% of whom are in the R20 000 to 30 000 income bracket).

·         There is a higher concentration of young, upwardly-mobile landlords (20 – 35) in Johannesburg than there are older landlords (35 – 55) or buy-to-let landlords.