COVID19 REALESTATE UPDATE – HEARTFELT WORDS FROM DIRECTORS ROB & MARIO

To our fellow Northside locals, our loyal clients -landlords, tenants, vendors and buyers and to our loving families and friends whose unwavering support over the past 25 years has allowed us to continually evolve… this message is for you.

If you’re like us, you’re probably finding it difficult to fathom how much the world has changed in the space of a week. These are unprecedented times, events like this occurring only once in a 100 years. From our perspective, the only silver lining is for the very first time in history we are witnessing the whole world come together against a common-enemy. And when the whole world shifts 100% of their focus towards a common goal – the enemy doesn’t stand a chance.

In a bid to curb the spread of Coronavirus in Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison extended the list of industries and services to be shutdown last night. Public real estate auctions and open home inspections were among the activities to be shut down.

Consumer Affairs Victoria confirmed that private inspections by appointment can continue for now, although further restrictions are expected in the near future.

HOW WE PREPARED

Four weeks ago my brother Rob and I knew a future lockdown was imminent and our goal was to ensure we would continue to serve our Landlords, Tenants, Vendors and Buyers to the highest standards, as well as keep our incredible team safe and employed through this surreal period.

We had to be flexible and innovative, adopting a proactive business approach. We invested in technology, programs and laptops to enable every member of our team to work remotely. We’re relieved to announce as of 1pm today (25.03.20) we closed the doors to our Brunswick HQ and have our entire team seamlessly working remotely.

From here on out every member of our team from Residential Property Management and Sales to Commercial Property Management and Sales, to our Marketing, Advertising, Admin and Accountants are all available by phone, email or video conference from 9am till 5:30pm, Monday to Friday.

We always embraced the digital technology in our business and this made the transition for our team an easy one. We have served our Northside community for 25 years and we will remain here for you, guiding you through these uncharted waters.

We’ll also continue to turn towards technology to satisfy the high demand in Victorian real-estate, with virtual reality inspections, transactions conducted over the phone and electronic document signing over the internet to become commonplace.

Traditional Public Auctions are now rightfully banned by the Federal Government too meaning many properties will be settled via Private Sale. This does however presents an exciting opportunity for us to explore Online Property Auctions as a new alternative. We’re in conversations with 2 companies who offer this service and are hoping to conduct our first ever Online Auction in the coming months. The obvious challenge here is ensuring buyers can see the property first – but if private inspections remain or we can continue to offer Virtual Tours, then an Online Auction is the next natural progression. Sometimes in life you’re forced to moved in a different direction, and this may very well be the beginning of a new integral way we run Auctions in the future. Of course we’ll guide our Vendors and Buyers every step of the way.

TO OUR TENANTS & LANDLORDS

Our industry as a whole is extremely concerned for the welfare of our tenants. Across Australia there are over three million rental properties housing eight million people. We know that many of our tenants are employed in sectors that have experienced significant job losses, and our Property Managers have been the first to hear your heart breaking stories, we know the significant stress and anxiety you’re feeling at this time. We have a responsibility and duty of care to look after the interests of both our tenants and also that of our property owners. These are unprecedented times and if a tenant is unable to pay their rent due to loss of income, the situation is further exacerbated by the fact they may need to self-isolate for a period of time. Then there is the other problem on the horizon for property owners who therefore cannot afford to make mortgage repayments because their tenants can’t pay rent. And we are extremely concerned for our Landlords who are retirees or pensioners, because we know they rely on the rental money to survive.

The REIV has spoken to the larger banks and financial institutions and Minister to make them aware of these imminent situations.

To our tenants, during this difficult time, which will pass, we will treat you with the care, understanding and respect that you truly deserve, whilst maintaining the highest quality of safe work practices. In return, we ask that you also treat our team in the same manner. We’re all in this together, we’re all doing our absolute best.

Our industry has a whole is now waiting for a government announcement. We’ve been told an assistance package relating to the real estate industry is being finalised. This package will be largely related to our tenants in order for them to be able to continue to pay their rent should they become unemployed. The assistance will be as large as it can be in order to tide people over until the current crisis has passed.

The REIV impressed upon the Minister the importance of keeping rent payments flowing so that estate agents can continue to trade and in so doing our property owners will continue to receive their rent and meet their mortgage repayment commitments.

All Australians need a roof over their heads at this time without the worry of not being able to pay rent. As soon as the government provides us with information we will provide updates.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you all, as difficult as it is, we are positive about the future. For now, please stay safe at home, eat as healthy as possible in this period to build up your immune systems, maintain your exercise work-outs from home and please continue to follow the government guidelines.

You have supported us over the past two and a half decades and now we want you to know we’re doing absolutely everything within our power to support you too.

Sincerely, Mario and Robert Elezovic – Managing Directors at Raine & Horne, Brunswick

 

COVID-19 Tenant FAQ’s

Does the COVID19 crisis change any of my rights or obligations as a tenant?

No, not currently. The State and Federal Governments have the power to announce measures that may impact some of your rights and obligations relating to your tenancy. Keep checking back here and/or with other updated pages to make sure you have the most current and accurate information about your legal rights about renting in your state.

Fair trading has FAQs concerning COVID-19 on their website which may be useful.

I’m currently in self-isolation. Should I let my property manager know?

Tenants should let their landlord know if they are self-isolating or sick with COVID-19, especially if the agent, landlord or tradesperson plans to visit or enter the rental. They should also make sure any other tenants, flatmates or visitors are aware of the situation and how it will work. See self-isolation guidelines

I have lost my job and I can’t cover the rent. What should I do?

If you are unable to meet your rent obligations, you should let us know immediately. We have been told that there will be an announcement by our Prime Minister in due course regarding support for tenants and landlords who are experiencing financial hardship. We anticipate this announcement will provide some much-needed guidance and framework around how to get both our Tenants & Landlords through this difficult time of job loss across the board.

Once we receive your request and evidence to support your lost income or job, such as Employment Separation Certificate, we will contact the landlord. Some landlords will be more willing and able to accommodate requests for paying a reduced or deferred rent for a short period, especially if their mortgage costs are low and allow them to do so. However, there is no provision within the Residential Tenancies Act to compel landlords to act with leniency in this situation and some landlords may not be in a financial position to offer this to you.

We encourage you to consider the following:

  • Have you had a discussion with your Employer as to whether your job is likely to be reinstated once the health crisis subsides?
  • Do you know that you can contact the Department of Workplace Relations for guidance around employment during this time? More information can be found here – Workplace Laws
  • Are you covered via an insurance policy for Income Protection Insurance?
  • Have you engaged with Centrelink with respect to an allowance that will likely also include rental assistance? More information can be found here - Centrelink
  • Have you checked with your Superannuation Fund as to whether you can access your super early? More information can be found here - Super
  • If you have any mortgages or personal loans, have you checked with your financier as to whether you can pause payments due to hardship?

If you feel you that you are no longer able to continue residing at the property, please contact your property manager to discuss the options available.

Can my landlord continue holding inspections for sale and for lease?

Landlords and their agents must ensure they do not breach the reasonable peace, comfort and privacy of their tenants. At the moment this may require taking steps to prevent the spread of disease by people visiting during an inspection of your property. They may need to consider:

  • Limit the number of people inside a property at any one time to maintain safe distances and adhere to the recent government announcement which prevents them from holding open homes for sale or lease. Please note that inspection by private appointment is still allowed
  • Asking every person intending to attend an inspection if they have returned to Australia from overseas in the past 14 days and also if they are currently experiencing fever, sore throat, cough or shortness of breath ( the current main symptoms assoc with Covid 19). If the answer is yes, then the landlord or agent should tell the person that they cannot enter the house until they have self-isolated for 14 days or they have had a Covid 19 test that has come back negative for the virus
  • Providing sanitiser/hand wash for people to use when attending an inspection and making sure they and the agent use it
  • Ensure no one touches anything fixtures or fittings while visiting the property

Can my landlord continue to conduct routine inspections?

Both property managers and tenants have ongoing legal and insurance obligations relating to routine inspections and COVID-19 does not remove these. Any tenant who is unwell or in self-isolation should inform us immediately by email so we can postpone your upcoming scheduled inspection. Rest assured that our team will be taking special precautions whilst onsite at your property to minimise any risk.

I have maintenance to report. Will it get fixed?

Your property manager will be prioritising any urgent repairs at this time. That said, should you have any general repairs, they will be attended to when possible assuming there are skilled tradespeople available to carry out the work.

My property manager wants to send a tradesperson into my property but I’m not comfortable with it. What can I do?

If the repair is urgent such as a smoke alarm or hot water system, the repair must proceed as it is deemed urgent according to the Residential Tenancy Agreement. If you have concerns, contact your Property Manager and ask them what precautions the tradesperson will be taking prior and during visiting the property.

Can my landlord evict me during this crisis?

Right now, your property manager can proceed with the same legal processes as usual. However, they must still follow the processes laid out in the Residential Tenancies Act. You can't be evicted without Tribunal orders, and only the Sheriff can physically remove you.

You can attempt to negotiate with your landlord - if you are already in arrears, it's better to be proactive.

I’m having trouble with other household bills, what can I do?

If you are having trouble paying other household bills like electricity, gas or water contact your provider/retailer to find out about their customer assistance program and its eligibility criteria. All electricity and gas retailers are required to have a customer assistance program. If you are eligible under the program you are protected from disconnection and your retailer should work with you to develop a suitable payment arrangement and offer other relevant relief or support.

Have a look also at the Australian Energy Regulator’s info for customers in hardship. Usefully they have their fact sheets in a range of languages other than English.

You can apply to have a phone hearing. Ensure you inform the Tribunal if you are in a higher risk category, for example, if you are immune suppressed or a carer for elderly relatives, so they can consider this when assessing and prioritising your request. While you are able to do a phone hearing on a mobile, in general landlines are preferred because of the reliability of the line.