The Covid-19 pandemic has forced home building industry regulator the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) to review its business operations by fast-tracking its online service offering following the national lockdown.
The council is an agency of the Department of Human Settlements, which is responsible for the protection of housing consumers and regulating the home building industry.
Going forward, the NHBRC will focus on specific areas that will further assist housing consumers and home builders by providing relevant and appropriate products and services under current conditions.
This will be achieved through strategic partnerships with other State-owned entities, the adoption of e-services and the introduction of services and training in indigenous languages.
NHBRC acting CEO Otsile Maseng says the council is considering ways of minimising the number of walk-in clients by eliminating the physical submission of documents. This can be done through the implementation of an e-documents platform, without violating any legislative requirements.
Additionally, the assessment of builders will have to be completed on an e-learning platform, with the option of doing assessments in the privacy of their offices or homes.
“We are acutely aware of the limitations these technological advancements may have on emerging homebuilders and customers who may be shut out, owing to no access to enablers such as data and general know-how. We are working very hard to ensure that no one is left behind as we fast-track the provisioning of e-services,” Maseng tells Engineering News.
He notes that, as stakeholder engagement will be critical, the NHBRC will need to work closely with its key stakeholders if it aims to remain relevant and secure its sustainability.
Meanwhile, residential building activities are expected to continue to reflect the current prevailing conditions in the economy, which will have a huge impact on the demand and supply market for new and existing housing.
“The pandemic and subsequent economic downgrades by rating agencies will result in a sharp decline in domestic demand for residential properties. This is owing to an increase in the number of job losses, which, in turn, will result in low household incomes. We expect very few mortgage lenders to look at new mortgage applications.”
With banks and mortgage lenders consequently having tightened their criteria for mortgages over fears of a sharp price decline in residential properties, Maseng suggests that this does not look good for many housing consumers.
Further, in the subsidy market, the low gross domestic product growth outook has resulted in government’s fiscal consolidation programme reducing the budgets of provincial human settlements departments and, consequently, investment in subsidy housing projects.
Maseng explains that all these macroeconomic dynamics have had a significant impact on the business and future outlook of the homebuilding sector. This also extends to the future outlook of the NHBRC, as the demand/supply dynamics for new homes are driven by a healthy economic climate.
“The stalled home building sector demands creative and out-of-the-box thinking by all key stakeholders if we are to survive the current downturn. Now is the time for bold and collective leadership to steer the industry through these uncertain times to carve a new path to recovery and ultimate renaissance,” he stresses.
Moreover, the council continues to offer limited services to stakeholders for the duration of the lockdown to manage customer expectations. These services range from builder registration, builder renewal and home enrolment to housing consumer complaints.
“While it is almost certain that the number of new units destined for enrolment with the NHBRC will plummet even further, this will have a huge impact on our revenue stream and that of homebuilders. I think the industry requires a summit to discuss the direction of the ‘new normal’ and carve a collective reimagined future,” Maseng comments.
Consequently, the council will continue to advocate for the adaptation and mainstreaming of home construction using alternative building technologies which are meant to contribute towards a greener future.
The NHBRC will also continue to seek out new customer service opportunities that will secure its sustainability and that of the homebuilding sector. This further contributes to job and wealth creation for the country.
“As a regulator, we will continue to ensure that the interests of housing consumers are protected and home builders comply with the Housing Consumers Protection Measures Act, as well as the prescribed technical and ethical standards,” he concludes.