Melbourne homeowners will only be able to bring tradies into their properties for “emergency” maintenance under the city’s stage four COVID-19 lockdown, but Premier Daniel Andrews has indicated sale settlements and moving home will be permitted.
And the construction industry — described by Mr Andrews as “in many respects the lifeblood of the Victorian economy” — will be allowed to keep operating at a scaled-back level.
The announcement follows Melbourne’s shift into stage four restrictions, which have placed the city under an 8pm-5am curfew and banned residents from travelling further than 5km from their homes for at least the next six weeks.
Documents released by the Victorian Government on Monday also stated Melbourne property operators and real estate services would be required to close on-site from 11.59pm Wednesday.
The Herald Sun is seeking clarity from the government about what this means for the operation of the residential property market.
Before Mr Andrews announced a raft of closures of non-essential businesses on Monday afternoon, Real Estate Institute of Victoria president Leah Calnan told the Herald Sun she had not been informed of any further restrictions being placed on the city’s real estate industry.
“As of yesterday (Sunday), we were still able to conduct online auctions and private inspections by appointment,” she said.
“Agents have continued to acknowledge the very privileged place they work in. We’ll make sure they continue to abide by the highest level of hygiene and processes.”
Mr Andrews flagged further announcements regarding real estate, stating: “I don’t want to see people not able to settle on their home. I don’t want to see people who are supposed to move from one place to another because the lease has run out unable to do so.
“We’re going to get some specific advice on that. We’ve already given it a fair bit of thought.
“I think the answer will be ‘yes’ if you’ve got a contract, an arrangement in place.”
He also stated he would have “more to say very, very soon” on whether residential and commercial eviction bans would be extended beyond their September expiration date.
Mr Andrews said Melburnians would only be able to invite tradespeople into their homes for “emergency support”.
“There’ll be no cleaners going to your house. There’ll be no one mowing your lawns,” he said.
“It’s not the time to be painting your house or having unnecessary, non-urgent work happen.”
The REIV understood regional Victorian property markets would be restricted to running private inspections, rather than open homes, and remote auctions when its stage three lockdown kicked in from 11.59pm Wednesday.
CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY’S ‘PILOT LIGHT PHASE’
From 11.59pm on Friday, the city’s residential building industry would also be put into a “pilot light phase”, the premier said.
New houses being built will only be allowed to have five people working on them at a time.
“By going down to five people at one time that will mean that the house is built more slowly, but it will still be able to trickle along for this six-week period,” Mr Andrews said.
Any construction above three storeys, be it apartments or factories, will be capped at 25 per cent of their workforce continuing to operate — the “practical minimum”.
The need to shut such sites down completely was rejected as many would take weeks to stabilise.
Major government infrastructure projects, including rail line upgrades, have already been scaled back by half. But further efforts would be undertaken to push the number of workers on sites down.
It is possible where construction work continues, the hours will be extended, with the Urban Development Institute of Australia’s Victorian chapter today informing their members they would seek longer hours on site in return for scaling back workforces.
Urban Development Institute of Australia Victorian chief executive Danni Hunter said the industry had proven “innovative and adaptable” thus far.
To date, it has implemented temperature checks on larger sites, asked workers to wear masks a week ahead of the government edict to do so, and also begun an industry-centric contact tracing program that ensures they know which sites workers have been on.
Ms Hunter said she believed sales would be allowed to continue, with much of the industry now embracing digital solutions to the lockdowns.
“We’re finding ways to leverage technology, so we can give buyers the information and the visual experiences they need to make a home purchase with confidence,” Ms Hunter said.
Housing Industry Association figures show there are about 30,000 houses under construction across Victoria today, with a further 30,000 apartments being built mostly in Melbourne.
HIA Victoria executive director Fiona Nield said allowing construction to continue at restricted levels would shield hundreds of thousands of jobs across the state.
Ms Nield said they had already limited worker numbers on housing sites to six people at a time, and that the new changes would ensure minimal wait times for new homebuyers.
“This is an industry that can navigate its way through this crisis and stay open,” Ms Nield said.
Homebuilder group Burbank’s managing director Jarrod Sanfilippo said the industry had already come a long way in scheduling trades on site, and would use morning and afternoon shifts to allow as much work to progress as possible under the five person at a time cap.
“The industry has really come together well to allow it to continue, and that’s a crucial point as to why construction is still being allowed to happen in the residential sector,” Mr Sanfilippo said.
Melbourne’s new rules will apply until at least September 13.
-with Nathan Mawby