Exemplar, a new rural retail real estate company, made its debut on the JSE on Tuesday, becoming the first property listing on the bourse in nearly a year.

After a slew of listings between 2014 and 2017, the commercial property sector has been subdued. Weak economic growth and a sell-down in the shares of certain companies have kept new entrants away from the market.

But the McCormick Group, a well-known rural real estate developer, has been preparing to enter the listed property sector for some time.

Exemplar will include more than R5.5bn in assets by the end of 2018, according to the CEO, Jason McCormick.

The McCormick Group had been a developer in SA for about 35 years, specialising in developing and managing rural and semi-urban retail centres, he said. The group had recognised significant demand for new centres in this part of the overall rural market and it needed to access large capital markets to achieve this.

"We reached a point where we needed to restructure our company. I’ve been building a development pipeline that is 500,000m² in size for 10 years for McCormick.

"By listing on the main board of the JSE, we will get access to capital markets, be able to pursue larger projects than we have in the past and become the best rural-focused Reit [real estate investment trust] in SA," said McCormick.

Exemplar is the first company to list in SA’s commercial property sector since Heriot Reit joined AltX last July.

The property sector overall is trading at a large discount to net asset value and has been extremely volatile so far in 2018.

The FTSE/JSE South African listed property index had lost 21.56% in the year to date by the end of trade on Tuesday.

McCormick said Exemplar was positioned to excel in the rural retail market.

"Managing shopping centres in rural areas is poles apart from doing it in urban areas. We have found that there is so much mismanagement of centres and our track record has shown that we can turn centres around as well as develop them," he said.

McCormick’s team includes property veteran Frank Berkeley as chairman.

Pranita Daya of Anchor Stockbrokers said the stock would need to build liquidity to attract institutional investors.

Correction: June 14 2018

This story has been amended to remove a misstatement, wrongly attributed to Catalyst Fund Managers, of the rural retail market's value.