Coronavirus: Ban on inspections of occupied homes hits industry

Victoria’s peak real estate body has slammed the state government for quietly outlawing inspections of occupied properties, saying the change will effectively prevent homeowners from selling or leasing non-vacant dwellings.

The directive escalates Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ban on open for inspections, which allowed agents to continue booking private inspections with prospective buyers and tenants.

A leading agent has described the development as “overkill”, especially with the coronavirus curve flattening, saying it has the potential to “put thousands of people in the real estate industry and supporting industries out of work”.

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Open for inspections were banned by the Prime Minister about 10 days ago. Picture: Tim Carrafa

Marshall White director John Bongiorno added the ban would impact the vast majority of homes his agency listed, as only about one in 1000 deals were done with buyers who had not physically inspected properties, and about 1 per cent hit the market fully vacant.

Consumer Affairs Victoria informed agents late on Thursday night that they could “no longer conduct public or in-person private inspections of tenanted or occupied properties”.

CAV’s website said this was because “it will not be possible for agents, prospective owners or tenants, and existing tenants to each comply with their legal requirements” to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

These included maintaining social distancing, ensuring homes are cleaned and disinfected before and after each inspection, and staying at home except for the essential tasks of buying supplies, attending work or study, for medical or caring reasons, and for exercise.

CAV said there was “no exemption for tenants or occupants to temporarily vacate their place of residence to facilitate inspections”, such as going for a walk.

It said inspections of occupied properties should be carried out virtually, or delayed “until a property is fully vacated and disinfected”.

A screenshot of Jellis Craig Boroondara agent Mike Beardsley conducting a virtual open for inspection on Gavl.

REIV president Leah Calnan said the organisation was “extremely disappointed” with the “harsh” new restriction, after the industry had been “extremely agile in changing their business practices” to comply with the Prime Minister’s ban.

“You won’t be able to sell or lease an occupied property now,” she said.

“In the Australian market, people don’t buy real estate from just a virtual inspection. People want to see what they’re buying.”

She said the REIV had this morning relayed to the Victorian Treasurer and Premier its concerns about “the financial impact on the state’s economy and the mental health impact for anyone working in the real estate industry”.

“The real estate industry contributes close to 50 per cent of the state’s income, via means including stamp duty and land tax,” Ms Calnan said.

“To be advised at 5pm the day before Good Friday that agents can no longer conduct inspections on occupied properties is disgraceful.”

REIV president Leah Calnan said the new ban could have dire consequences for the real estate industry.

Mr Bongiorno labelled the move “an overkill that will have incredible repercussions”, noting his agency had been adhering to strict social distancing and hygiene measures when conducting inspections.

“People are still allowed to exercise, so most of the vendors we’re dealing with go for a walk around the block (while we’re running inspections),” he said.

“Our agents are always taking sanitisers with them and wiping down doorknobs and other surfaces.

“Real estate is an essential service. We have to provide housing. To do this without consultation is absolutely irresponsible and absurd when you’re allowed to go to places like Bunnings.”

He said it would add to the anxiety of people hurt financially by COVID-10, including those who had bought properties and needed to sell theirs, and tenants seeking cheaper rentals after their incomes had taken a hit.

The Herald Sun has contacted the Consumer Affairs Minister for further comment.

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