What it means to be at Alert Level 2 for the NZ real estate industry
As the country has gone from Level 3 to Level 2, our lives have taken another step towards ‘normal.’ The Government’s instructions are clear –generous physical distancing must be in place, contact tracing systems are absolutely vital for the new relaxed conditions to continue, and pristine hygiene etiquette is expected of everyone.
For many of those putting life decisions on hold during Alert Levels 3 and 4, these can now go ahead. This will mean agents are being called on to guide consumers through their next steps of buying and selling homes around the country.
Open homes and in-person auctions may now go ahead but with strict guidelines on numbers driven by physical distancing limitations.
The Government has stressed that all real estate activities would need to adhere to a minimum of 2 metres physical distancing from anyone unknown both inside and outside. Hygiene etiquette should prevail with agents asked to clean high touch areas in home viewings and to ensure that contact tracing is set up for all parties involved.
Agents should make it clear to prospective buyers and tenants that the contact information collected will be kept for two months or more, to be provided to WorkSafe and the Ministry of Health.
Open homes are back
The Government has given the thumbs up to open homes as long as there are only 10 people in the home at any one time, including the agent, and a 2-metre physical distance is maintained.
Private viewings are still expected to be popular among buyers and sellers, and are easily arranged by using the Trade Me Property “Request a viewing” button. Private viewings or virtual viewing options are advised for buyers who can’t comply with health requirements or for at-risk people. Agents should advise at-risk people about the potential risk of attending an open home, says the Real Estate Authority.
Key reminders when conducting open homes:
Agents must ensure contact tracing systems are in place, taking the details of all the open home attendees.
Agents may want to manage the open home register themselves to limit contact with pens, registers and tablets.
They can also ask open home attendees for an official form of identification such as a driver’s licence.
The private viewing or open home should be contactless where possible so agents should open doors and cupboards prior to the event.
Viewings must occur safely, with 2 metre minimum distance kept between different bubbles and hygiene etiquette adhered to.
It is the agent’s responsibility to ensure attendees are keeping to the advised 2 metre physical distancing, by considering the layout and size of the property. It may be that agents have to stagger entry to the property and they’ll need to have a system for managing a queue.
Agents should have all open home attendees remove their shoes prior to entry and offer them hand sanitiser as they enter and exit the property.
After the open home, the agent should sanitise all the areas that may have been touched.
In-person auctions are up and running
In-person auctions are going ahead at Level 2 as long as health requirements of 2 metre physical distancing and hygiene etiquette are adhered to.
No more than 100 people in total can attend the auction, whether it is held outside or inside. No group attending an auction can exceed 10 people. Agents need to make sure there are measures in place to allow for 2 metre physical distancing, considering the type, size and layout of the auction venue.
If the auction is held at the property for sale, the numbers of attendees may need to be limited further if the layout and size of the property doesn’t allow the appropriate physical distancing.
The details of all the auction attendees must be recorded for contact tracing purposes and agents can ask prospective bidders to pre-register. Surfaces must be sanitised after the auction.
Agents should provide digital auction packs over printed ones, and give interested parties the ability to bid by phone or online.
Agencies should keep auction registers for at least two months in case the details are needed by WorkSafe or the Ministry of Health.
Real estate offices open once more
As the workforce is allowed to return to offices, real estate offices are open for business again, able to take walk-in inquiries from home buyers and sellers. A distance of 2 metres must be kept between staff and the public.
Signing the agency agreement
Agents and clients can now meet in person to negotiate and sign the agency agreement, maintaining the 2 metre physical distancing and hygiene etiquette. Surfaces should be sanitised and parties should use their own pens. Agents should take the details of the parties in this meeting, to be recorded for contact tracing purposes.
Agents should confer with the vendor about what would happen if the alert level moved back up to Level 3 or 4.
Agents transporting clients
Before organising meetings with clients, agents are asked to confirm with them that they haven’t been unwell with flu-like symptoms, been self-isolating, or had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
Agents are to email COVID-19 information and hygiene requirements to clients before meeting at the home. They must record all the details of the interaction including the date and time, customer’s name and contact details, the property visited, and details of those present at the property.
If agents are giving the customer a lift, and there are no concerns of COVID-19, they may transport one person at a time. The client must sit in the back passenger seat on the passenger side, not behind the driver, to make sure as much physical distance as possible. The agent should sanitise any areas of the vehicle which the passenger may have touched.
Making an offer
Sale and purchase agreements and listing agreements can be negotiated and signed in person once more. Pens should not be shared and a 2 metre physical distance should be kept between parties. Surfaces should be sanitised prior to the meeting.
Appraisals, home inspections and marketing services
Inspections by a range of professionals, including building inspectors, valuers and others, can take place as was possible at Alert Level 3. A 2 metre physical distance must be kept to at all times.
No one can visit a property if the occupants are unwell, are self-isolating or have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the last 14 days.
Real estate professionals can visit the home to make appraisals of potential listings.If an agent conducted a virtual appraisal during Alert Level 3 or 4, they should now complete a physical appraisal of the home, providing they meet all the health requirements.
Prospective buyers can visit the property with the professional or tradesperson if they comply with health requirements.
Additionally, photography, videography and home staging can be carried out at homes for marketing purposes, as long as 2 metre physical distances are kept. Photographers, videographers and home stagers who visit the property must comply with the health requirements, maintain physical distancing and ensure that surfaces are sanitised that they have touched.
Showing the property to other agents
The real estate caravan is allowed once more at a maximum group size of 10. Health requirements must be met, and there should be 1 metre minimum physical distancing from each other. Hygiene etiquette should be followed and surfaces sanitised. The details of the attendees should be recorded for contact tracing purposes and hand sanitiser provided.
The finance environment remains very supportive to buyers who can display good job stability and a healthy deposit. Agents should advise clients to speak to their mortgage adviser about any plans to use bridging finance.
Cost of borrowing
The conditions for buying a home, if buyers have a stable income, are excellent. Economists are saying the historically low interest rates are likely to be in place for the next three years.
Homebuyers, meanwhile, no longer have to find a 20% deposit for a home with the lifting of loan-to-value ratio (LVR) restrictions by the Reserve Bank for the next 12 months. There are also expectations of some price adjustments which may benefit buyers.
Rental Property guidelines
Property management offices are open to the public, staff and property managers once more as long as there are contract tracing systems in place and workplaces set up for staff workspaces are a minimum of 2 metres apart.
Regular property management functions, for instance, routine rental inspections can happen once more in person, as long as they can occur safely with appropriate 2 metre physical distancing.
Before visiting the property, managers should check that there’s no one there who has been unwell with flu-like symptoms, who is self isolating or has been in contact with a COVID-19 case in the previous 14 days.
The landlord’s insurer may require inspections to be carried out at certain intervals. Property managers will need to gather this information from landlords if rescheduling inspections.
Property managers can also visit properties to carry out appraisals and listings provided they can do so safely, with physical distancing of 2 metre minimum maintained at all times and with good hygiene etiquette and contact tracing systems in place.
As is usual, if visiting the property, property managers will need permission from the tenants and their permission cannot be withheld unreasonably as per the Residential Tenancies Act.
Property managers should consider having marketing discussions with clients by phone or video call to minimise personal contact.
Selling a tenanted property
Tenancies cannot be terminated unless there are special circumstances, for three months from 26 March 2020, taking it to 26 June and it’s possible the Government may choose to extend this. Landlords can’t apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to end the tenancy for rent arrears unless the tenant is at least 60 days behind in rent.
Rental viewings are back up and running. Up to 10 people can go through the home at a time,including the property manager, as long as 2 m physical distancing is possible between bubbles.
Property managers may stagger access to the property if there are a number of potential tenants wanting to see the home, so they will have to have a queue management system at the ready. They should discuss with the landlord how best to hold property viewing in light of the property’s size and layout.
In line with contact tracing, managers must collect contact information from everyone visiting the property.Where possible, they should electronically register attendees and provide them with COVID-19 information beforehand.
The rental viewing should be as contactless as possible so the property manager should open any doors and cupboards before the viewing begins.
Property managers should have attendees remove their shoes prior to entry and they will need to offer hand sanitiser for people as they enter and exit the property.
Rental viewings won’t be permitted at homes where the tenants have been unwell with flu- like symptoms or been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
There should be no rental viewings at homes where the tenants have been unwell with flu- like symptoms or been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
The property manager should sanitise any areas attendees may have inadvertently touched.
Management and Tenancy Agreements
Agreements can be negotiated and carried out in person as long as this is done with 2 metre physical distancing. Property managers could consider doing this via phone or video call to reduce personal contact. If done in person, parties should use their own pens and the details of the visit should be recorded, with contact details of the people present noted for contact tracing.
Property maintenance of rentals can go ahead, as long as the details of any tradesperson visiting the property are recorded to help with contact tracing. They must keep the usual 2 m physical distance and they must also sanitise any areas they might have touched.
Ongoing legislation for tenants
The Government’s freeze on rent increases remains in place as it was made for an initial six months.