ZIMBABWE’S bona fide real estate agents are pushing for recognition to operate as essential services during the lockdown period, which is likely to be extended given the spike in Covid-19 infections.
In terms of Statutory Instrument (SI) 10 of 2021, institutions frozen out of essential services privileges can lodge applications for exemption with the government.
This follows a 30-day lockdown, which took effect on January 5.
In his letter dated January 11, 2021 — addressed to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Dr Mavis Sibanda — the president of the Real Estate Institute of Zimbabwe (REIZ), Alexander Millin, made a compelling case, pleading for exemption.
Millin noted that the real estate sector had not been designated as an essential service despite fitting perfectly into the government’s definition of professionals and artisan services that are vital in providing Covid-19 support.
“Essentially, the sector is an integral part of essential services such as finance, health, mining, agriculture, airlines, hospitality and ICTs, which function within a built environment supported by the real estate sector,” said Mr Millin.
“It is for this and other reasons that we are making a passionate appeal to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce to be exempted from the lockdown…”
REIZ lodged the application for exemption not only on behalf of its members but other professionals in the field, represented by the Estate Agents Council of Zimbabwe (EACZ), the Valuers Council of Zimbabwe, the Construction Industry Federation of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Building Contractors Association, the Institute of Architects of Zimbabwe and the Engineering Council of Zimbabwe.
As part of their justification, they argued that the real estate sector in Zimbabwe employs over 100 000 workers, with the construction sector alone being home to 30 000 wage and salaried jobs, including 20 000 self-employed. The industry also contributes substantial revenues to the fiscus through various tax heads such as capital gains tax, property tax, Value Added Tax, presumptive tax, income tax and Pay As You Earn. It also supports the built environment for industries classified as essential services.
REIZ also felt that shutting down the sector would choke financial inflows that benefit pensioners while also depriving the whole economy of long-term funding for capital projects and investments needed for economic growth and development. The basis for this is that Zimbabwe’s elderly population accounts for 6% of the population, of which a sizeable chunk are reliant on Pension Funds for income, which pension funds depend, to a large extent, on the real estate sector for income.
“The real estate sector is a trusted store of value and any shut-down for periods in excess of two weeks will leave property owners and managers facing heavy repair and maintenance bills.
“Industries designated as essential services require the services of valuers to provide valuation services for their movable and immovable properties, which reports are critical in making strategic and operating decisions. The same applies for other professionals such as architects, engineers, and surveyors etc, who support the built environment;
“The shutdown has opened a window of opportunity to bogus agents that are on the loose, fleecing unsuspecting and desperate clients of their hard-earned income under the guise of delivering a service that would never materialise.
“These bogus agents know neither rule, nor regulations and are blind to the consequences that arise if they don’t abide by Covid-19 regulations. The only way to stop them and protect members of the public from being exposed to Covid-19 and losing their hard-earned income is to allow professional and registered agents to open their doors, self-regulate and give room to the law to provide additional cover to all concerned,” REIZ said.
As it is, realtors have been disabled from managing and maintaining shopping centres, industrial complexes, office complexes, hotel buildings and lodges, medical centres, and apartments for clients that are designated as essential services.
This presents challenges in ensuring availability of utilities such as water, electricity, thus posing health risks to their staff and their clients. It also makes it difficult for property managers to collect rent, carry out repair and maintenance, especially of elevators, air and conditioning units.
Millin concluded thus: “We therefore strongly feel that this document has laid a solid foundation for the real estate sector to be granted the exemption that it desperately seeks. The exemption can be issued to member associations, such as REIZ, and regulatory organs such as EACZ for distribution to bona fide members. The full list of organisations is listed above”.
The ministry is yet to respond to the application.— Real Estate Institute of Zimbabwe.