NSW to lift bans on open homes and on-site auctions in move expected to boost market

Concessions allowing homebuyers to return to open for inspections and on-site auctions will give the real estate market a much-needed boost, property experts claim.

The relaxed restrictions announced as part of government measures to kickstart the NSW economy will permit homebuyers to attend open homes and on-site auctions from next weekend.

Buyers had been limited to viewing properties by private inspection only and auctions were being conducted online due to social distancing measures enforced in mid-March.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet announced the restrictions will be lifted after nearly six weeks with strict health guidelines in place.

These include limits to the number of people allowed to attend inspections and auctions, along with physical distancing requirements.

Hand sanitiser will be mandatory and stringent cleaning of properties will be required. Those with symptoms of illness will be barred from attending inspections or auctions.

Agents will also be required to keep records of those attending in case contact tracing is needed.

The announcements came as CoreLogic data showed Sydney’s auction clearance rate bounced back up to 63 per cent this week after being below 40 per cent for much of April. Meanwhile, new listings activity slumped last week to about half what it was in March.

Real Estate Institute of NSW chief executive Tim McKibbin said the new concessions would give the industry a boost and help sure up confidence in the sector.

“The market has been severely impacted by COVID-19 in the sense it has frozen … activity has been in hibernation,” he said. “Relaxing (the restrictions) could mean stronger competition for property.”

Cooley Auctions founder Damien Cooley said the lift on restrictions may encourage vendors to convert private treaty sales into auction.

This would push up auction volumes in the coming weeks, Mr Cooley said. “The industry had been embracing online auctions and sellers were getting some strong results but the return to face-to-face interactions will make a difference,” he said.

A key impact will be on agents’ ability to market properties, since they will no longer be required to host time-intensive private inspections, Mr Cooley added.

“It was incredibly difficult for agents to do private inspections,” he said.

Under the new health guidelines, agents will be encouraged to limit the number of people attending inspections, but Mr Cooley said the simplest way to do this would be restricting attendance to registered bidders only. “Agents will have to discourage spectators,” he said.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the relaxing of restrictions was a sign of the ongoing success in limiting the spread of COVID-19.

“Bit by bit we are starting to be able to roll back some of the restrictions, and each time we do, it’s a ray of sunshine in what has been a dark period,” Mr Perrottet said.

“We are glad the real estate industry can put out the welcome mat again, but it doesn’t mean everyone should come storming in for a house party. The last thing we want to have to do is tighten restrictions down the track because people didn’t take enough care and use common sense.”

“When it comes to this change, a simple home truth is to leave the house hunting to the genuine buyers and sellers and avoid overcrowding,” Mr Perrottet said.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard urged real estate agents and the community to take care when face-to-face inspections and auctions resumed.

“The community has done an outstanding job in limiting the spread of COVID-19 and we need to make sure we continue to exercise vigilance,” he said.

Mr McKibbin said the relaxing of property restrictions meant home sales would be governed by similar rules to those in place in the retail industry.

“The concession is not all that different from what is in place for attending Bunnings or Coles or going on public transport … it reflects how important real estate is for the economy.”

Originally published as NSW to lift bans on open homes and on-site auctions in move expected to boost market