By Kirsten Craze
Although an end to NSW’s lockdown is in sight, REINSW believes key workers in the real estate industry, who live in areas of concern, should not be expected to wait until “freedom day” just to do their job.
Tim McKibbin, REINSW CEO, has sent a submission to the NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research, the Hon. Brad Hazzard, requesting an amendment to the Public Health (COVID-19 Additional Restrictions for Delta Outbreak) Order (No 2) 2021 to include a new clause that applies to agents located in Local Government Areas (LGA), or parts of Local Government Areas, which are defined in the Public Health Order as areas of concern.
This new clause would echo an existing stipulation in the order (clause 5.8) put in place for construction workers. As it stands, construction workers who reside in an area of concern can currently move freely from their locked down LGA to work on construction sites as long as they meet vaccine requirements, namely that they have:
- had two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine;
- had one dose of this vaccine at least 21 days ago;
- had one dose of this vaccine within the last 21 days and a COVID-19 test within the previous 72 hours; or
- are able to present a medical contraindication certificate and have been tested for COVID-19 within the past 72 hours.
Despite lockdowns, people need to move
It is REINSW’s position that even in the midst of a pandemic, property still needs to change hands. Whether someone is buying, selling or renting, many individuals and families under financial hardship or other serious circumstances simply can’t press pause on their lives and wait for restrictions to be lifted before making a necessary move.
Mr McKibbin highlighted in the submission that people need to find shelter, something which the Public Health Order recognises (item 14 of schedule 2) by making it a reasonable excuse to leave home to move between or to a new residence or to inspect real property.
“Agents who live in an area of concern need to manage and sell properties that are located outside their area in order to enable people to buy, sell and lease property. If agents are not permitted to leave their area of concern for this purpose, then this limits the services they can provide to consumers who need to buy, sell or lease property,” he wrote.
Cameron Nicholls, chairperson of the Agency Chapter Committee and director of Nicholls & Co in Sydney, said there are multiple reasons why a move can’t be postponed.
“Some people are forced to move home in a hurry, for whatever reason, and we’re the ones who are in the middle; they need us to be able to help facilitate that move,” he said.
“We really want to help people move, obviously that's our job. We simply want to be able to give the authority for people to carry out their duty safely because helping people move home is essential,” he said.
Given that the public is allowed to leave an area of concern to view a property, Mr Nicholls said it only made sense that the same level of freedom be allowed of real estate agents.
“Someone coming from an area of concern can go and look at a property and there seems to be no checks as to whether that person is vaccinated. But an agent who is prepared to be fully vaccinated so that they can show a property can’t actually perform their job - surely that’s safer?” he said.
Renters and property managers face challenges
The submission to the Minister also points out that tenants are particularly disadvantaged by current restrictions. Renters rely on their property managers to assist with urgent repairs or to even find them a property if they’ve had to move due to circumstances out of their control.
Mr Nicholls said it wasn’t unusual, especially in Sydney, for property managers to personally live outside of the areas in which they operate professionally.
“I have a property manager and she’s living in what is an area of concern right now. So, she's not been able to do her role completely as she’s confined to working from home. It’s been challenging for her to help people, but also there are other team members who’ve just had to pick up the slack,” he explained.
Two industries have the same goal
Just like construction workers, real estate agents cannot perform all their duties from home. Daily tasks such as inspections, facilitating tradespeople for repairs and maintenance, plus onsite listing presentations, all need to be done at a residence by a trusted property professional.
With a significant number of agents unable to leave their homes in areas of concern to complete these work tasks means individuals and some agencies are unable to operate their businesses.
The Institute’s submission cites that this restriction is impacting the industry’s ability to effectively service consumers in need even beyond the general impact that lockdowns have already had on the industry.
Mr Nicholls said in his opinion there is no clear argument for the construction industry and the real estate industry to have different freedoms during lockdown.
“I’d say it's probably a case of he or she who screams the loudest gets heard first. There's no reason why real estate agents shouldn't have the same conditions as construction workers,” he said.