The pros and cons of property stokvels

Stokvels in South Africa are big business. A saving scheme that was once used for a likeminded group of individuals who share the same goals to meet short-term needs, such as buying groceries or school supplies at the end of the year, is fast becoming a way for the new generation to build wealth by investing in property.

According to research by Nedbank, over 11 million South Africans are members of one or more stokvels, of which there are more than 820 000 in existence, holding annual savings of more than R44 billion. Stokvel members need guidance and education on how this non-traditional approach can be used to leverage their collective strength for greater economic benefit i.e., taking it beyond spending on consumables.

Large corporates are recognising the growth in popularity of stokvels. FNB recently launched a collective buying home loan scheme that allows up to 12 people to purchase property together. This is a way of generating funds that can be put to better use and for greater benefit. Andrea Tucker, Director of MortgageMe says that while property stokvels are a good way to enter the property market, consumers need to be cautious when signing agreements.

Your home loan application in a stokvel situation is only as good as your worst investor”.

The pros of joining a property stokvel:

  • A large percentage of South Africans are excluded from the formal economy and property stokvels provide a vehicle for low to middle-income families to invest and build wealth through harnessing the power of the collective.
  • By pooling financial resources, larger properties can be purchased, and the group can benefit from the compounding principle. A deposit of R500 000 will get you a far bigger property than one of R100 000.
  • Joining a stokvel encourages saving behaviour through cooperation. By joining and participating, it becomes obligatory to save and make your monthly contribution or else you are excluded from the club. This provides security and protection from circumstances outside of your control.
  • Property stokvels give low-income earners comfort that should something go wrong, like retrenchment, they can possibly avoid losing their homes by calling on the co-operative power of group savings.
  • You can purchase property to maintain, manage, and rent out with the stokvel members each taking a share of the rental income or using this to lower the financial burden for the first few years of the loan.
  • In times of low lending interest rates, it makes sense to look at investing in other assets (like property) to ensure that your investment is eating inflation (and you are not eroding the true worth of your rands).

The cons of joining a property stokvel:

  • If one person defaults on their monthly instalment, the account will go into arrears if the other members cannot settle the shortfall. This can negatively impact the credit rating of all participants as everyone is jointly liable for the loan. The group approach to this must be discussed and contracted upfront and it possible, a slush fund invested to cater for occasional payment shortfalls.
  • Fights and disputes between members of the stokvel may lead to the breakdown of the group, further complicated by co-ownership of a large, long-term asset like property.
  • Stokvel scams are tricky to spot. Scammers often run pyramid schemes that are disguised as stokvels.
  • People may want to pull out of the stokvel due to personal reasons and not be able to get their money back. Through the formalisation of the stokvel’s constitution, this situation can be planned for upfront.
  • Many stokvels are not formally registered or authorised by a financial services provider and therefore unregulated. As a result, fraud is common, despite being founded on the principles of trust and discipline.

Tucker advises that before investing in a property stokvel, you do credit score checks on all the participants which you can request from them individually.

A credit score is important as it shows whether a person is a good candidate for your stokvel. It reveals how a person has handed debt in the past and whether or not they stuck to the terms and conditions of the deal”.

Property stokvels are a good investment but only if you have done your homework and taken the necessary precautions going in.