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Sanitised auctions go ahead as real estate companies push on

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Real estate agents are pushing ahead with open inspections and auctions as the coronavirus fails to flatten the market.

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Limiting auctions to registered bidders only, practising social distancing and requesting that visitors to open inspections come in small private groups and keep hands in pockets are among measures being taken to ease concerns and prevent the spread of the virus.

Many companies are also asking that their customer-facing staff work from home between appointments to limit the exposure of office workers.

According to realestate.com, there were 52 auctions held in Adelaide from March 9-15 with 37 selling at a clearance rate of 77 per cent.

There are 46 auctions scheduled this weekend.

Ouwens Casserly Real Estate will hold two auctions this weekend and have six scheduled for the following weekend.

Managing director Alex Ouwens said the environment of low listings, which was evident before the pandemic, coupled with record low interest rates was helping keep the market afloat.

“There’s been a slight pause in the market but there’s also been this underlying feeling from many buyers that this will be a virus that will come and go – it’s not like a global financial crisis that could go on for a long period of time,” he said.

“Part of the market has drawn back with some buyers feeling a little bit unsettled by what’s happening at the moment and some prospective vendors doing the same thing and holding off.

“It’s just finding the right sweet spot between not making it difficult for people to buy a home and respecting the current health hiccup that we’ve got.”

Ouwens Casserly has introduced strict open home and auction protocols including the compulsory use of hand sanitiser before entering a home, no handshaking, staggering groups to keep space between visitors and requesting that people keep hands in pockets and avoid touching anything.

Ouwens said the company had put a business contingency plan in place and was looking to reduce overheads such as limiting the use of external consultants and temporarily cancelling training events and celebrations.

He said the company would potentially consider holding auctions in the parklands across from its East Terrace head office if the situation worsened.

“We employ over 100 South Australians and we’re doing everything we can to hold on to everybody through this period,” Ouwens said.

“People need to buy and sell real estate and there will be some pent up demand that will come back again in the latter part of this year or early next year. It’s just a matter of being a bit nimble and pivoting in this challenging time.

“We don’t know what the volume decrease but there will be a decrease – we’re in uncharted territory.”

Sales consultant and property management director at Gary J Smith Glenelg, Brad Allan, said hygiene and social distancing protocols had been put in place and all staff who were in direct contact with clients had been asked to work remotely.

He said open inspections and auctions were still going ahead but were being assessed on a case by case basis in line with the latest federal government advice.

“There’s still plenty of interest in opens and offers so at this stage we’re finding that there is some confidence,” Allan said.

“There are still a good chunk of buyers out there and people who have already sold their homes and are needing to move into a property within the next 30-90 days.

“Over time that may change but at this stage our open numbers have been quite good for the new releases that we’ve had and I’ve got three launches this weekend that have already had good inquiries so at the moment things are still tracking all right.

“When things go a bit funny in the share market a lot of people revert back to property in the knowledge that people always need a roof over their heads whereas shares can evaporate overnight.”

Allan said he expected that fewer people would put their homes on the market while the coronavirus persisted unless there was a specific need to sell.

However, he said the rental side of the market was relatively buoyant with a lot of prospective tenants out looking at properties.

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