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Locally, the banks have relaxed their lending criteria somewhat, and in some instances lower deposits are required. Current market conditions mean those looking to buy property should make a move soon. Here are the top reasons why you should invest in the housing market now.Low interest ratesInterest rates were cut from 10% tp 9,5%, this marked the lowest interest rate that South Africa has experienced since mid 1974. The rate cut will benefit the affordability of housing against the background of property prices rising by more than 10%, year on year, in the first eight months in 2010. Due to lower interest rates, bond repayments will be lower and consumers will be able to qualify for marginally higher loans when buying a property.

The large amount of distressed properties

Due to the high levels of distressed property on the market, the asking prices for residential real estate have dropped and there are a lot of bargains to be found. The banks have engaged with local realtors to assist in the sale of distressed properties, with the aim of selling these homes at market related prices as quickly as possible. The selling prices of distressed properties are usually within 10% to 15% of the market value, providing a win-win situation for both buyers and sellers – buyers get a good bargain, while sellers are able to sell the property, nullify their debt and avoid a bad credit record by being blacklisted.

A better level of professional service

The number of estate agents contracted by more than 50% during the economic downturn, and even more are expected to leave over the next few years with the approach of the deadline for obtaining the new agent qualifications required by law. The implication of this for consumers is that they can increasingly expect highly professional service from only the top performing and best qualified agents that are left behind.

An inflation-beating and sound long-term investment

Economists are predicting that nominal house prices will rise by 12,1% in 2011 and 12,7% in 2012. This is a huge cry from the heydays of the property boom, but it is an indicator of a healthier and more sustainable market. Over and above this, the more volatile the JSE Securities Exchange becomes, and as the Eurozone and US debt problems are predicted to worsen over the next three or so years, the security that property assets provide will become increasingly attractive to the average man-in-the-street investor.

The South African residential real estate market has made great strides over the last year, but it remains a buyers' market and there are still a lot of opportunities out there for savvy buyers. The remains that property is a less risky investment than shares, with inflation-beating returns over the long-term practically guaranteed. So if you have access to credit or cash, now is the time to buy property.