Homes open for public inspection and auctions attended by groups of people fly in the face of government-led efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus and need to be immediately stopped, the Real Estate Institute of Australia says.
The institute's president, Adrian Kelly, said the industry needed to urgently change its practices in line with social distancing requirements.
"Whilst we obviously recognise the impact to trading this will have, it is important that the entire industry pulls together and supports the government in their efforts at this time to limit the spread of COVID-19," Mr Kelly said.
"One-on-one private inspections by appointment must become the norm coupled with the appropriate safeguards as recommended by health authorities. With regard to public auctions, these can still occur via telephone bidding or by using one of the many online auction platforms available. We need to show some initiative and resourcefulness at this time."
Canberra real estate agent Catherine Halloran, who has worked remotely for a year at Upside Realty, said she had already seen an increased demand for virtual home inspections and had started to offer virtual property evaluations before stricter social distancing measures were introduced on Sunday.
"For me, the transition is more just an extension of our existing services. The sorts of things I find I'm seeing a little bit more of now are things like virtual tours of properties, like actually essentially Skype or FaceTime-style tours through a property for buyers who don't want to or can't attend," Ms Halloran said.
"Normally, we would have done those for interstate buyers or buyers who are overseas, but now we're finding we're doing them from time to time for local buyers."
Ms Halloran said remote evaluations require as much information as possible to be transmitted digitally, which usually took place with a video call.
"I find [the evaluation process] adapts quite easily. I think if I wasn't familiar with the area, perhaps if I was trying to do an appraisal of [a property] in Melbourne or an area that I don't operate in frequently, it might be more challenging," she said.
Ms Halloran said she had not struggled to conduct evaluations remotely but some clients had required more time to adapt.
"It takes them a little while to get used to the digital interface rather than you physically being there," she said.
- Live blog: latest news as Canberra responds to COVID-19
- Coronavirus schools confusion: Yvette Berry 'very sorry'
- Explainer: schools, shopping, exercise in the COVID-19 era - what's safe and when will it end
- 13 new coronavirus cases in ACT, total rises to 32
- High commercial rates are crushing hospitality businesses
- Three ACT prisoners in isolation as concern over coronavirus outbreak behind bars deepens
- More coronavirus news
Ms Halloran said not all real estate agents would adapt quickly to working remotely and at a distance from other people, including clients and vendors.
"I think some people do really struggle with it, the lack of contact, particularly in our industry. Our industry is a people contact industry. To not be shaking hands and to not be seeing people face-to-face is a very strange transition for most real estate agents," she said.
Ms Halloran said virtual auctions were already possible but had previously only taken place where there was particular demand.
"We certainly have the capacity to provide that, and I expect we'll be doing it more if this becomes a prolonged situation of isolation," she said.
Ms Halloran said the more agents could modify their businesses to continue as usual, the impact would be lessened on the industry and the property market.
"Regardless of people being told not to travel, there still is varying reasons why people do have to buy and sell. We didn't see buying and selling stop during the [global financial crisis]; I don't think we'll see it stop completely during this phase either," she said.
We have removed our paywall from our stories about the coronavirus. This is a rapidly changing situation and we want to make sure our readers are as informed as possible. If you're looking to stay up to date on COVID-19, you can also sign up for our twice-daily digest here. If you would like to support our journalists you can subscribe here.