The way Australians buy and sell their homes has changed overnight, with widespread auction and inspection measures being put in to protect families and prevent a catastrophic fallout in the property sector.
Fresh off the back of government calls for social distancing to become the norm nationwide, real estate industry peak bodies have moved fast to put in new safety measures, while agencies call for the property industry to be recognised as an “essential service”.
Ray White Group managing director Dan White called for the classification, warning that any risk to trading would force “wide-sweeping uncertainty among Australians”.
“Despite some media reports to the contrary, the property market is continuing to yield high clearance rates and it’s clear that many Australians still have a strong need to buy and sell property, regardless of the situation,” he said.
“There are thousands of pending property sales from the past few weeks alone where buyers and sellers have exchanged contracts but are yet to settle. These sales will require the services of real estate professionals to be finalised. If this support cannot be provided due to the lockdown, both parties to the contract will be left in limbo and unable to finalise their transaction,”.
The Real Estate Institute of Australia today called for significant changes to the way all agencies conduct their business. “Past practice with open homes and public auctions needs to cease,” said REIA President Adrian Kelly.
“One-on-one private inspections by appointment must become the norm coupled with the appropriate safeguards as recommended by health authorities.”
“With regard to public auctions, these can still occur via telephone bidding or by using one of the many online auction platforms available. We need to show some initiative and resourcefulness at this time.”
He said, “the sooner we all do what needs to be done, the sooner we can return to a more normal real estate market”.
Mr Kelly told The Courier-Mail that many of those measures were already under way across the bigger franchises.
“This has been talked about for a number of weeks now. I know that a lot of the larger franchise groups are a long way down the track with this, but we needed to get the message out to some of the smaller businesses that they need to get this.”
Ray White Group – which sells one in eight houses across Australia and New Zealand – has already moved its network of 1000 offices to private auctions instead of in-room or in-office events. “We have adapted very quickly to the new physical distancing requirements and we use technology to show, and then sell, properties without the need for physical contact,” Mr White said.
“Our tenants need to know they can still talk to us, that we’ll still be working for them even when we may be doing so remotely.”
He said millions of residential and commercial tenants “will also need support during this time, whether it be for routine maintenance requests or for the more serious matters that will result from widespread financial hardship”.
“We urge the federal government to deem the industry as essential to the livelihood of the country. We need to be able to continue to provide the orderly completion of sales and purchases as well as property management, all of which will bode well for national confidence and lessen the shock to the economy.”
Among the services the industry considers essential include “any services required to facilitate property transactions (including relocation services and cleaning) limited to the allocated number of people at any one time in a certain sized room”.
“Similarly we believe any services required to maintain housing and shelter, including property maintenance and transactions, utilities connection and maintenance be limited to the set number of people at any one time,” he said.