Feature article

Your guide to real estate during COVID-19

A guide for real estate throughout the different alert levels.

Your guide to real estate during COVID-19

  • See the latest Alert Level 2 updates below: effective from noon Friday May 29
  • See the previous Alert Level 3 updates: effective from 11:59pm Monday 27 April - 11.59 pm May 13
  • See previous Alert Level 4 updates: effective 11:59pm Wednesday 24 March - 11:59pm Monday 27 April

What it means to be at Alert Level 2 for NZ real estate

As the country went from Level 3 to Level 2 from 11:59 pm on Wednesday 13 May, with groups extended from 10 to 100 on noon Friday May 29, our lives have taken further steps towards normality. Strict physical distancing remains in place, with contact tracing systems around every in-person meeting or event and pristine hand wash etiquette expected when arriving and leaving a property.

But for many of those who were putting life decisions on hold during Alert Levels 3 and 4, these can now go ahead. It will mean more buying and selling of homes around the country and people again able to move house from region to region as they want.

Open homes are back again

Open homes may now go ahead but with strict rules on gatherings not exceeding 100, and with physical distancing, hygiene etiquette and contact tracing.

The Government has stressed that all real estate activities still need to adhere to a minimum of 2 metres physical distancing from anyone unknown in an open home. Hygiene etiquette should prevail with agents cleaning high touch areas in home viewings and ensuring that contact tracing is set up for all parties involved. The contact information you give agents at a variety of meetings in the real estate journey will be kept for two months or more in case it is needed by the Ministry of Health.

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 can be used for buyers who can’t comply with health requirements or for at-risk people. At-risk people will be advised that they are taking some risks when attending an open home.

At open homes, contact tracing systems will be in place, agents noting the details of all the open home attendees. The private viewing or open home should be contactless where possible, so agents may manage the open home register themselves to limit contact with pens, registers and tablets. You may also be asked for an official form of identification such as a driver’s licence.

It’ll be 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 stagger your entry to the property and have a system for managing a queue. You’ll be asked to remove your shoes prior to entry and offered hand sanitiser as you enter and exit the property. After the open home, the agent will sanitise all the areas that may have been touched.

For those with your house on the market, discuss with your agent how best to safely hold property viewings, given the size and characteristics of the home.

Auctions are back

You can safely attend auctions in person and sell by auction once more as long as bidders keep to health requirements of 2 metre physical distancing and stick to hygiene etiquette.

A maximum of 100 people may attend the auction, whether it’s held outside or inside. Real estate agencies will have made sure there are measures in place to allow for the appropriate 2 metre physical distancing depending on the size and layout of the auction venue.

If the auction is held at the property for sale, the number of attendees may need to be kept adjusted if the layout and size of the property prohibits the appropriate physical distancing.

If you attend an auction you’ll be asked to register or possibly to pre-register, and these details may be kept for two months or more in case they are needed by WorkSafe or the Ministry of Health.

Expect agents to provide you with digital auction packs rather than printed ones, and you’ll be able to bid remotely, via phone and online, if you prefer.

Real estate offices open once more

As the workforce has been allowed to return to offices, real estate offices are open for business again, able to take walk-in inquiries from home buyers and sellers who must keep a 2 metre physical distance.

Signing the agency agreement

Agents and clients can now meet in person to negotiate and sign the agency agreement, while maintaining the 2 metre physical distancing and hygiene etiquette. Surfaces should be sanitised and parties should use their own pens. The details of the parties in this meeting will be recorded for contact tracing purposes.

Agents transporting clients

You’ll be able to ask for a lift from an agent if there are no concerns of COVID-19, but they can only transport one person at a time. You’ll have to sit in the back passenger seat on the passenger side, not behind the driver, to make sure there is as much physical distance as possible. The areas of the vehicle which you may have touched will be sanitised afterwards.

Making an offer

Sale and purchase agreements and listing agreements can be negotiated and signed in person once more either at people’s homes or at real estate offices. Make sure you don’t share pens. A 2 metre physical distance should be kept between parties, surfaces should be sanitised and details for contact tracing will be expected.

Appraisals, home inspections and marketing services

As a buyer or seller, you can ask for your home to be inspected by a range of professionals, including building inspectors, valuers and others, as you could at Alert Level 3. They’ll have to keep a 2 metre physical distance 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.

An agent can visit your home if you’re thinking of selling. If you’ve had an agent do a virtual appraisal during Alert Level 3 or 4, they should now complete a physical appraisal, providing they meet all the health requirements.

Photographers, videographers and home stagers can come to your home to help with its marketing, as long as 2 metre physical distances are kept. They have to comply with the health requirements, physical distancing and ensure that surfaces are sanitised.

For buyers, It’s okay now for you to visit the property with your professional or tradesperson if you all comply with health requirements.

Bridging finance

The finance environment remains very supportive to buyers who can display good job stability and a healthy deposit. Speak to your mortgage adviser about any plans to use bridging finance.

Cost of borrowing

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

In-person routine rental inspections are happening now as long as they can be carried out safely.  Property managers have to make sure that no one is unwell at the house with flu-like symptoms or has been in contact with a COVID-19 case. Property managers can also visit properties to carry out appraisals and listings provided they can do so safely, within health guidelines. Home staging is also allowed at Level 2.

Selling a tenanted property

Tenancies can’t be terminated unless there are special circumstances. This ruling was introduced 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

Rental viewings are back up and running and these can now accommodate up to 100 people. The usual 2 m physical distancing must be maintained between bubbles.

The property manager may stagger access to the property to meet distancing restrictions if there is good interest and so you may have to wait outside the home until others have gone through.

Everyone who wants to attend will have to provide all their contact information for contact tracing.

The rental viewing should be as contactless as possible so the property manager should open any doors and cupboards before the viewing begins. Home staging is allowed to go ahead.

You’ll have to remove shoes prior to entry and hand sanitiser will be on offer as you 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.

Management and Tenancy Agreements

You can negotiate rental agreements in person now as long as this is done with physical distancing. You can also do it via phone or video call to reduce personal contact. If done in person, everyone 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.

Cleaning and moving

Property managers and landlords can come and make exit inspections once more as long as they can happen safely. Landlords are advised to clean a vacant rental property professionally so it’s ready for new tenants. Any visits to the home should be recorded in detail with contact details of those present.

Thank you to the Real Estate Authority and to REINZ for outlining this information.