Tenant payment performance is recovering in the residential tenant population although a ‘full’ recovery to pre-lockdown levels is yet to be achieved, according to TPN’s Quarter Four Residential Sector Rental Monitor for 2020.
This reflects just how severe the deep economic contraction of the second quarter of 2020 and its resultant tenant employment and income loss actually was, says Michelle Dickens, CEO of TPN Credit Bureau.
TPN data confirms an improvement in tenants’ good standing from a low 73.5% of tenants paid up in the second quarter, a slight increase to 74.57% in the third quarter, to 77.6% in quarter four. Preliminary data for the first quarter of 2021 points towards further improvement although not quite to pre-lockdown levels above 80%. Landlords with properties in the R7,000 to R12,000 rent per month category are seeing 83.63% of their tenants paid up.
However, tenants at the low end of the market with rentals below R3,000 per month are still in distress with only 65.61% in good standing with their landlords. This segment is populated by the most financially fragile part of the tenant population, explains Dickens, with very few financial ‘buffers’ with which to weather storms that may translate into income loss.
While the residential tenant payment performance recovery is clearly on the right trajectory, current figures remain well below those recorded pre-lockdown indicating that both the economy and the employment rate is battling to fully recover after the contraction of the second quarter of 2020.
Dickens reveals that the margin of error for complacent tenant administration has, even prior to the hard lockdown, been under threat for some time. “Low escalations and higher than inflation property costs are slowly eroding profit for some landlords who have not been proactively managing their portfolios,” she says, adding it is, however, encouraging to see early signs of recovery in small pockets of the residential rental market.
Could total salaries for February 2021 paid via the BankservAfrica National Payment System which increased for the first time since May 2020 indicate an improvement in tenant financial health? According to Dickens, the 0.2% improvement may be small in percentage terms but, encouragingly, it is signalling the start of a desperately needed turnaround.
However, February 2021 was another month of fewer workers cashing in a paycheck. BankservAfrica data confirms that -2.8% fewer monthly earners and -10.6% fewer daily wage earners were on the payroll in February.
“The reality is that the number of ‘banked’ employees continues to shrink, particularly in the lower end of the pay scale. However, while the net result is fewer people on the payroll, those employed are seeing an improving average take-home pay of R15,821, which is up 4.75% year on year,” Dickens reveals.
Financial pressure is not only reflected in tenant payment performance but also in a steadily rising residential vacancy rate. Dickens points out that a shrinking pool of workers is reflected in growing residential vacancies. Vacancies are at 13.31% in the first quarter of 2021. The worst affected segment of the residential property market is the lower rental category of less than R3,000 rent per month. Dickens reveals that TPN estate agents and landlords report an 18.45% vacancy rate in this category, a figure which corresponds with BankservAfrica data concerning declining numbers of lower-paid earners.
“Financial pressure has resulted in certain rental households pro-actively ending their leases in rental properties and seeking alternatives such as moving into shared accommodation or moving back into parents’ home until finances improve,” she says.