CAPTURING the voices of industry consumers, practitioners and aspiring buyers, the third annual Fiji Real Estate Survey 2016 has once again provided unique and valuable insight into the needs and wants of this pivotal sector, and as the immense quantity of feedback received has proven, there is never a shortage of input for a trade catering to the universal necessity of property ownership and occupation.
The survey was released in September by Property.com.fj, the country’s leading real estate portal, and drew responses from over 1000 participants, hailing from Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America, amongst other locations, over a three-week period.
Concerns about property affordability were most prevelent amongst responses and frequently cited as an industry area needing improvement. Frequent suggestions for assisting low-income and single-parent families with property financing were also made, evidencing a wideninggrowing consideration concern for the plight of more disadvantagedgeous buyers.
“Provide cheaper costs to housing and investment to young people with young families, [and] provide finances to single moms or single working parents who earn $20,000 per annum,” onea respondent recommended, reflecting the widely-held concern for low-income and single-income families.
“It is important that we have affordable homes coupled with ability to pay… to improve the real estate industry, someone must measure up the foreigners’ influence on real estate prices.”
Respondents also hinted at the fact that investor confidence could be substantially improved if lengthy and time-consuming bureaucratic processes were decreased, and even property taxes lowered, as well as by increasing cooperation with immigration officials to expediently carry out background checks on suspicious foreign buyers, and decreasing Stamp dDuty costs for foreigners. Some others petitioned for easier and faster loan approvals, lamenting the current lengthy timeframes and stating that it took too long to build a home in Fiji as a result.
“Land will stop selling unless laws are changed; you can’t take six months to clear titles and expect to build something on that property in six months without building materials,” one respondent complained, in clear reference to the delays that often plague governmental approval processes.
Another commonly discussed matter was that of restrictions for non-citizen investment under the Land Sales Act (2014). At present, foreigners cannot purchase property within municipal boundaries, unless it is a strata development or integrated tourism project.
Some petitioned for easy loan approvals, and lamented lengthy timeframes, saying it took too long to build a home here, while some respondents called for tighter regulations and demarcations of where foreigners should beare restricted from purchasing. Others instead denounced the Act, opining that it should be more “investor friendly”, although adding that the provisions of the Act which ring- fence housing stock and vacant land for Fiji citizens inside municipal boundaries for Fijian citizens were appropriate to market conditions at the time of the Act’s amendment.
“Ninety percent is native land available for lease. There was no need to impose further restrictions to non-citizens owning Freehold vacant residential land outside town boundaries, by having to build within two years, [and] of minimum spend ($250,000 as per the Act) etc,.” a respondent explained.
One respondent’s view underscored fears of a collapsing residential land market outside larger city areas, such as Savusavu and Taveuni, amid what they foresee to be a downward spiral in foreign-owned houses and land, for sale as foreigners continue to bail out of investments and projects due to policy uncertainty.
Realtors were also often noted as another sphere needing more attention, particularly in relation tofor regulations, commissions (for which legislations are is currently underway), conduct, advertising and pricing of properties. while aAdditionally, there were many shared desires for improved build quality and property maintenance.
“Encourage landlords to view their house as an investment, instead of a goose that lays perpetual golden eggs for free,” onea respondent recommended.
“Maintenance is neglected, as are improvements, and landlords need to realise that if they spend to upgrade a house, they can often command a higher price and get better tenants – plus spend less on maintenance because they built it the right way in the first place. I cannot stress this highly enough. The agent business is also parasitical, and needs to play its part in encouraging the improvement of the industry.”
While the survey highlighted some points of contention within the industry, there have been major positive changes in recent times.
In a flourishing and, essential industry, it has certainly been encouraging to have already witnessed heightened regulatory efforts by from the Fiji Real Estate Agents Licencing Board, and a willingness by agents to form associations for better representation.
Given the variety of valuable suggestions made by respondents on ways to potentially improve the local real estate industry, Fiji’s increasing industry practitioners, regulators and affiliates will endeavour to utilize survey feedback constructively. Indeed, the survey results will likely serve as a platform to initiate further industry alterations and adjustments, in order to yield greater satisfaction for agents and investors alike∎
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