Fanie and Louise are a retired couple living in Witbank, Mpumalanga – a city in which they met, fell in love and raised their two children.
They bought their first (and current) family home in 1997 – a year when interest rates were sitting at more than 20% per annum.
“We were so scared we were not going to be able to afford the monthly payments,” says Louise, noting that they paid R250,000 for the three-bedroom house in one of the city’s “good suburbs”.
Fast-forward 20 years and life in Witbank has deteriorated to such an extent that unplanned blackouts are common occurrences – sometimes up to 24 hours at a time – water interruptions are normal, and bulk infrastructure maintenance on roads, water and sewage purification is insufficient to meet the needs of the city’s more than 111,000 residents.
At the beginning of this year Eskom implemented enforced, planned power cuts twice a day in response to the city’s failure to meet its debt obligations with the national power utility. Due to the city’s resolve and protests, Eskom quickly backtracked on its plans to squeeze the city in an attempt to get it to cough up the money.
It is under these circumstances that Fanie and Louise, as well as many other retired homeowners find themselves, where they cannot sell their large family homes in pursuit of smaller, more manageable retirement accommodation in Johannesburg (to be closer to their children and grandchildren), or south to the coast.
“We need the equity from the sale of our house to afford something else,” says Fanie. “We are too old to qualify for another home loan from the bank.
“Regardless, we don’t think there are any buyers in Witbank anymore.”
Roxanne and her husband, Wicus, have had their two-bedroom townhouse on the market for more than two years.
“We have not had a single offer on the house since we listed it,” says Roxanne, noting that her house is in a secure estate. “We really want to sell but buyers either want a bigger kitchen or a double storey. The agents don’t seem too motivated to sell though.”
A quick search of available homes for sale in Witbank reveals there are more than 4,000 homes currently on the market, meaning serious buyers have a large selection from which to choose – as well as miles of negotiating rope! Conversely, rental accommodation is in much shorter supply, with just more than 700 properties available to let.
In a city where there are 27 homes currently for sale per resident, with an apparent shortage of willing buyers, what exactly do couples like Fanie and Louise, or Vanessa and Wicus, do to “graduate” to the next phase in their homeownership journey?
Their options are to either rent out their properties, investigate rent to buy opportunities, stay put and hope that things get better before they get worse, or cut their losses and list their homes for well below market price to make a quicker sale before all value in the property is lost.
“When things first started getting bad we trusted that the municipal managers and staff had things under control,” says Louise. “We were hopeful that the city in which we grew up and raised our children would still be a good place to retire or, at the very least, that our homes would retain their value and be easy to sell. We should have sold at least five years ago!”