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Tuesday Feb 04, 2014

Competitive rates boost development'

Efficient towns and cities with competitive rates and taxes stand to benefit from commercial property investment and development, says the South African Property Owners Association (Sapoa).

'Local authorities with competitive rates, lower utility costs and incentives for property developers and owners will fair substantially better in attracting private sector investment,' says Sapoa chief executive Neil Gopal.

He urges local authorities to capitalise on this to increase their pool of ratepayers.

'In 2014, property development activity will continue on a larger scale, such as in Waterfall Business Estate and Steyn City,' says Gopal. 'Public sector infrastructure spending - roads, rail and housing - will also have positive impact on private sector developments.'

Sapoa's recent meetings with the mayors of Joburg and Cape Town and senior representatives of both cities was a big step forward in the dialogue between the property sector and local authorities. Sapoa hopes to continue these discussions and expand them to other regions this year. Gopal says South Africa's low economic growth outlook of about 2 percent, a huge current account deficit and the possibility of a downgrade by rating agencies, will have a negative impact on all sectors in the economy.

When it comes to commercial property, he sees retail continuing its positive performance, whereas the office sector will remain under pressure.

'Much of sub- Saharan Africa is starting to attract new multinational investment and this is bringing more diversification to the local property market with increased interest in retail development in other African countries,' says Gopal.

When it comes to South Africa's listed property owners, Gopal expects more consolidation of smaller funds this year. This will boost the scale and liquidity of the funds. The sector's fundamentals are strong and vacancies are well managed, which bodes well for solid performance. The office market will continue to be strained.

Also, residential Reits (Real Estate Investment Trusts) are likely to be explored by the sector this year, says Gopal.

And, it isn't only in subSaharan Africa that this sector is identifying opportunities. It is also investing in Europe, Australian and even the US.

'The new Reit structure has paved the way for inward investment in our listed property sector. However, the sector will remain vulnerable to several risks. We could see increased pressure on tenant retentions and rental growth given the low levels expected for GDP growth,' says Gopal.

The main threats to commercial property are: unsustainable levels of increasing rates and taxes; electricity costs; skills shortages in the public sector; the low economic growth rate; poorly conceived legislation; corruption; and maladministration.

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