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Melbourne lockdown: private inspection ban eased ahead of schedule

By Ben Jusufi

KEY real estate restrictions have eased ahead of schedule, breathing life back into Melbourne’s spring property market.

Private residential property inspections will be permitted from tomorrow, Monday September 28, state government documents confirmed.

The move comes earlier than first planned on the state’s coronavirus road map, which originally indicated private inspections would return on October 26.

The Premier did not comment on real estate restrictions at his Sunday press conference, but government documents show 15 minute private property and display home inspections would be allowed with one agent and one prospective purchaser or tenant, along with their household or intimate partner.

Public auctions are still banned, but can be conducted online.

Melbourne residents are still not permitted to travel to regional Victoria to inspect properties.

Real Estate Institute of Victoria president Leah Calnan said the industry welcomed the move, which would allow desperate buyers and sellers to restart their property plans.

“It is encouraging to see that the plight of many Victorians who were unable to make decisions about their own property has been reconsidered by the government,” Ms Calnan said.

“This decision is recognition that the real estate profession can be trusted to conduct inspections in a safe and responsible manner.

“We have done so previously, and will continue to do so for the benefit of all Victorians.”

The peak industry body was seeking clarity on whether commercial properties could also be inspected and if photographers and other ancillary services were permitted.

Real Estate Buyers Agents Association of Australia president Cate Bakos said it was good news for buyers and sellers, and agents would be ready to hit the road to try and meet pent-up demand.

“It means that our spring selling season will start tomorrow,” Ms Bakos said.

“What it will mean for agents is a different kind of pace and co-ordination than they have ever imagined.”

But there needed to be more clarity on whether people could travel outside their 5km bubble to inspect property, she added.

“It would not be ideal, but also not the end of the world, if you can’t go out of your 5km zone,” Ms Bakos said.

“At least then someone you trust and rely on can attend with a video call and you can be confident nothing has been missed.”

It would also help households worst affected by lockdown to be given a chance to sell their home before their bank forced them to.

“And for those on bridging finance or who are borrowing from friends or relatives, this could mean saving thousands,” Ms Bakos said.

First-home buyers will also welcome the move with some stuck on timelines to find a home if they wish to access the federal government’s First Home Loan Deposit Scheme.

Ms Bakos said she had clients in this situation who had until November to find a home if they wanted to purchase on a 5 per cent deposit.

Harsh stage four lockdown restrictions, which only allowed services related to property settlement and the commencement or ending of a lease, faced backlash from homeowners and tenants who have been unable to walk-through properties since early August.

Debra Wilmot’s Skye home of 13 years was stranded on the market due to the “ridiculous” private inspections ban.

Ms Wilmot said she “had to sell” after being stood down from her catering and events job as she “didn’t know if I’d get my job back at all”.

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Real Estate Industry Partners chief executive Sadhana Smiles said the news would be a “relief for many Melbournians who have had their property on the market for many weeks, and for tenants who may need to move.”

“There are still many details to be worked through, however our agents have worked under COVID safe rules, pivoted quickly to online and contactless options,” Ms Smiles said.

“Most importantly we are looking forward to helping our clients, who have had properties on the market for many weeks now, getting them leased or sold.”

Property Council of Australia Victorian executive director Cressida Wall said the decision reflected the importance of the property industry to jobs and the economy.

“We applaud the Victorian Government’s decision to bring forward the return of real estate activity,” Ms Wall said.

“Our members have bent over backwards to show how we can do this work safely and we’re glad the state government has listened.

“The decision will protect thousands of jobs and help create a pipeline of construction activity.”

Up to $20b could have been wiped from the Victorian economy if real estate restrictions had extended well into spring, CoreLogic data showed.

CoreLogic head of research Tim Lawless said 15,544 properties hit the market in September and October 2019, but fresh listings were “tracking 76 per cent lower” than a year ago.

Veteran real estate agent Philip Webb declared the inspections ban had been “a death sentence” for the spring selling season, noting “no one buys houses they’re going to live in without walking through”

The last step on the road map — to apply from when the state has no new cases for two weeks — will allow real estate to operate with “safety measures and record keeping”.


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