Sun City - If you want to make easy money, avoid the property sector. That’s the message from delegates at the South African Property Owners Association's (Sapoa's) national conference in Sun City.
A panel of speakers, consisting of leaders of some of the country's largest listed property groups, said the era of exuberant investment as it occurred a decade ago is over.
"When the upturn comes, it will be stronger than we are used to," said Mike Flax, managing executive of listed property company Redefine. "But [the industry] will be more wary and more conservative."
According to Flax, the recent recession has put paid to opportunities to make "easy money", as was the case in the last couple of years.
The panel voiced its concerns over the possibility of stagflation as rental growth remains stagnant.
During the February and March reporting season, the biggest listed property companies – Growthpoint and Hyprop - reported distribution growth of 5% and 6.5% respectively.
According to Frank Berkeley of Nedbank Corporate Property Finance, these results will remain flat for the rest of 2010. "We're close to the bottom, but not really on the upside yet."
Norert Sasse, CEO of the R23bn strong Growthpoint Properties, said now is not the time to enter into any form of speculative developments.
"This spectre of stagflation is just against the fundamentals of putting a property development together," said Sasse.
The economy lost 171 000 jobs in the first quarter of 2010, according to Statistics SA. This, combined with Greece's debt troubles, is adding to industry fears of a double dip.
According to the panel, the sector's fundamentals have weakened. Sasse said he distrusts numbers coming from the retail industry. "Malls would rather keep their shops occupied, and are accepting less for monthly rentals."
"You can't find [tenants] for love or money, especially in shopping centres."
During the February and March reporting season, Growthpoint, Redefine and Hyprop – all retail-focused and representing about R61bn of the R112bn property market - reported vacancy rates of 6%, 9% and 4.5%.
SA Corporate, with a portfolio consisting mainly of small community shopping centres, reported an 8.6% vacancy rate for the year ending December 2009.
The type of investor looking at the property sector should be at least 10 years from retirement, said Erwin Rode of Rode & Associates.