Picture: Celebrating the deal (from left to right) are Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty Chief Financial Officer Neethesh Haripersad, Sandy Geffen, Lew Geffen, Hloniphizwe and Masechaba Mtolo from Savukazi Properties and Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty CEO Yael Geffen.
Family legacies are part of the fabric of South Africa’s real estate property sector.
Many of the country’s top estate agencies have been built up by families that over decades remained committed to hard work and a dedication to service excellence. Today’s Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty is one of them. CEO Yael Geffen is the daughter of Lew and Sandy Geffen, co-founders of Lew Geffen Estates in 1982, and also the granddaughter of Aïda Geffen, one of the trailblazing women in the local real estate industry.
The Geffens’ success with their family business is one of the reasons why businessman Hloniphizwe Mtolo and his actress and TV/radio presenter wife Masechaba recently decided to join with them in a partnership. The Mtolo’s own Savukazi Properties.
Says Masechaba, “We’ve always been ‘interested’ in property so when Hloniphizwe saw an advert for a Lew Geffen Sotheby’s franchise it was almost like a sign. We were drawn to the brand’s honestly and contacted their offices. When we met Lew and Yael, we spoke about the franchise that was for sale and it was all systems go.”
Lew then suggested that Savukazi takes over ownership of the branches in Lew Geffen Estates while he and Sandy stay on as CEOs. Macheba says this was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. “We want to create a legacy for our children (we have 6) and the Geffen’s have built a successful family business over almost four decades. This is a road we walk together. This is us investing in our future as a brand, as a family and as a dynamic employer.”
Last Thursday 25 June Lew announced the sale of his Johannesburg flagship Lew Geffen Estates (Pty) Ltd to Savukazi Properties, a step that was widely hailed as a landmark transaction. The deal will see Lew Geffen Estates convert to a franchise operation wholly owned by Savukazi Properties (Pty) Ltd and trading as Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty. Everything else stays the same – the head office, the agents, the administrative staff and the areas. The implementation date of the transfer is 1 August, at which time Savukazi Properties becomes entitled to any and all licensed franchising privileges associated with Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in the numerous areas of Gauteng currently operated under the global brand affiliate agreement with Lew Geffen Estates (Pty) Ltd. Lew and Sandy will both stay on as CEOs to ensure continuity and will also become directors of Savukazi Properties.
Geffen says “This is without doubt among the most significant ownership transfers in South Africa’s real estate industry in recent years. With the Mtolos taking ownership of a newly created franchise across greater Johannesburg we are placing the flagship region of the country’s most esteemed property brand in the hands of consummately skilled business partners to ensure continuity, security and longevity of this legacy enterprise that has been built by the Geffen family over four decades.”
He remains the chairman and owner of Geffen International Realty Franchises (GIRF), the national franchising arm of Sotheby’s International Realty South Africa and Sandy remains the executive director of GIRF. Savukazi Properties will be a formal franchise within the GIRF group.
Hloniphizwe is chairman of the boards of the Shell Companies in South Africa, which include Shell South Africa Holdings, Shell Downstream South Africa and Shell South Africa Energy. He is also a board member and alternate chairman of SAPREF, the country’s largest refiner of oil products, and serves on the Board of Governors for the petroleum products industry body SAPIA, among others. Hloniphizwe will remain in his current position with Shell South Africa but will be involved in this new venture in a mentoring capacity.
Masechaba will be more directly involved with the family’s new property business venture. She says it is important to focus on positives while adapting to the “new normal” of business during the Covid pandemic.
“It’s so easy to let fear overwhelm you. At the beginning of the Level Five lockdown it was literally the case of wondering whether the real estate industry could operate; could business continue? Then the industry adapted; moving to other options like virtual showcasing of properties and finding new and innovative ways to do business. Life and business are about adapting and if we build the right partnerships and create the right opportunities going forward, the future will be bright.”
The announcement of the deal has met with positive reception. Andrew Sadomba, principal Y-Rent Properties, says the partnership is an intelligent move by the Mtolo family. “To be fostered by the Geffens at a cost so that they learn, be mentored, get marked share, business systems and work with a well-known brand in order to take over in a short time. I see Savukazi taking all the space occupied by Lew Geffen Estate and opening more shops in the townships too in and around Gauteng soon
“Most of the top 10 real estate companies here are family-owned and they like keeping them as a legacy for generations to come. It looks like the Geffen family supports transformation in this sector by transferring their company and helping Savukazi to be on their feet,” he ends.
Property entrepreneur Rali Mampeule calls the deal a progressive step towards a more inclusive future for the property industry. “Projects like these are significant in diversifying the property sector and in breaking racial and gender barriers. This is a positive indicator for young South Africans who aspire to enter the sector,” he says.
Mampeule says some people prefer to start from scratch in building a real estate business while others want help and proven methodology, but there is no one right or wrong answer to this. “As long as transformation and bringing new blood into the old vein of real estate is happening, we are going in the right direction,” he adds.
He concludes with an apt quote that the American novelist James Baldwin made in 1962: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”