Victoria’s state government has announced it will allow private property inspections once 70% of all Victorians have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

A statement from the office of Premier Daniel Andrews said private inspections of unoccupied premises for a new purchase or end of lease will be permitted by the time the state reaches its vaccination target. 

For these inspections, only one household may attend at a time, with the agent staying outdoors during the inspection.

Property inspections are vital to keeping the housing market active amid the lockdowns, as shown by the results of the different strategies employed in New South Wales and Victoria.

Over the ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns, NSW has allowed the market to continue to operate by allowing private property inspections.

The same can’t be said for Victoria, where activity has plummeted since the lockdown started in mid-July.

In fact, data from REA Group showed that seven weeks after the start of the fifth lockdown in Victoria, property sales plummeted by 45%.

Furthermore, listing figures show a 14% drop in new homes up for sale in Melbourne.

REA Insights economist Paul Ryan said the slowing down in activity was apparent among buyers and sellers.

"Buyers, understandably, do not want to make such significant financial commitments without viewing prospective properties," he said.

"Sellers are holding off listing properties until viewings can recommence."

The case of lockdown in Sydney

What happened in Melbourne was different with the situation in Sydney, where there are no restrictions hampering activity.

While there are certain rules to follow like requesting for a permit for inspections and conducting auctions online, Mr Ryan said the market activity remained more favourable than in Melbourne.

"Sales in Sydney are down less than 20% on the pre-lockdown level,” he said.

“Compare that with Melbourne at a similar time in their lockdown last year – when activity was down more than 50%.

"The benefit of allowing the Sydney housing market to operate enough to accommodate property transactions that are necessary, rather than discretionary, should not be discounted."

Keeping property inspections safe

Real Estate Institute of Victoria (REIV) president Leah Calnan said allowing property inspections is the right move for the state government.

"It’s indisputable that inspecting homes is a fundamental aspect of property transaction due diligence,” Ms Calnan said.

“Without it, buyers and renters are flying blind – it’s just unrealistic to expect people to lease or buy a property without seeing it.”

Ms Calnan said there are measures that can be put in place to ensure the safety of inspections. These include:

  • inspection by prior appointment only
  • maximum two adults and one real estate agent/representative;
  • declaration that attendees have not visited a Tier One or Tier Two exposure site in the 14 days prior;
  • prior approval from any occupants; and
  • 15-minute appointment blocks, with time allowed either side for cleaning.

These measures will be on top of the current rules sellers, agents, and buyers follow, which include:

  • masks required, unless an exemption applies;
  • disinfection and cleaning before and after inspection;
  • no touching of surfaces during the inspection; and
  • QR code and paper record-keeping for contact tracers.

“It’s also important to remember that the decisions people make about housing have a major impact on their physical, mental and financial health and wellbeing, which are all very real concerns Victorians are coping with following 200 plus days of lockdown," Ms Calnan said.