Unity key to sustained fight against COVID as property takes a hit

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian real estate industry has been in the headlines for record property prices but we too have had to run our own unique course.

Adrian Kelly, Real Estate Institute of Australia
Adrian Kelly says the property industry's contribution to limiting the economic impacts of COVID should not be underestimated. (Image source: Shutterstock.com)

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian real estate industry has been in the headlines for record property prices but we too have had to run our own unique course.

In March 2020, our workforce of Australian property managers were handed a government policy to implement: rental eviction moratoriums.

Property managers in every single jurisdiction did the heavy lifting in working with tenants and investors to single handedly deliver this policy on behalf of National Cabinet.

These efforts were met with little thanks and often a lot of criticism from the tenant’s lobby.

As an industry, we were asked to step up and we willingly united to play our role in fighting the virus.

More than a year on, its beyond comprehension that we’ve come full circle on many of these policies, but half of the nation is once more living under lockdown.

Agents and customers in both Victoria and the ACT are now unable even to list properties in advance of spring sales.

As REIA president and owner of seven real estate businesses, the consequences of these ongoing lockdowns need to be urgently addressed.

REIA’s State and Territory Institutes have done an incomparable job of ensuring COVID-19 compliance and have rapidly adopted new rules and technology so the show can go on.

Every Australian need access to the same options when it comes to housing.

Whilst in New South Wales inspections have been allowed (with limitations), this has meant both sales and tenancies can continue to function with appropriate distancing.

Citizens of NSW now have an advantage over their counterparts in Victoria and the ACT for no apparent reason at all; and the industry there an undeniable comparative advantage. 

The losers? Are those Australians that need to move, be it buy, sell or rent, during the pandemic, of which, according to feedback from agents working in suburbs and towns across Australia, are many. 

The fractured approach to policy making across States and Territories needs to stop.

An observation only; but in 2020 JobKeeper allowed people to socially distance and stay at home successfully. It also allowed small businesses (like agencies!) to manage through difficult pandemic conditions.

The ad hoc approach applied in 2021 to economic and public health policy is no one’s friend and won’t stand Australia in good stead to emerge as thriving economy on the other side of COVID-19.

But we do look at our colleagues in real estate (amongst others) in the UK, Europe, Israel, North American and Canada and know COVID-19 simply does not end with vaccination.

Masks, social distancing, trace/ test / and quarantine all remain features of day to day life and real estate practice. Agents and agencies need to accept that this will all be part of our sales and rental portfolios and plan for this for years to come. 

We need to be honest about this as a nation and put in place risk based, pragmatic rules that are consistent across Australia so housing continues to function for the benefits of home buyers, owners, tenants and investors.

We need a single national code of practice for our industry to withstand what the virus throws at us next that cover:

  • Short, snap lockdowns (<7 days) – where contactless activities should be allowed to process (virtual inspections, settlements, filming for listing and settlements)
  • Longer lockdowns (>7 days) – a base level business continuity plan including 1:1 inspections and pre-listing photography

What we don’t need to accept is the ad hoc and inconsistent approach this has been applied since the first National Cabinet meetings where our industry has largely gone unrecognized. 

As a nation, we will do better if we face the challenges together, and stand shoulder to shoulder. 

And, as an industry, we must do the same.

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