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Pandemic sparks rush to purchase regional property ‘sight unseen’

By Ray White Whitsunday

As tens of thousands of people desert our capital cities in a coronavirus pandemic-induced exodus, a new trend is emerging in the scramble to beat fast-growing regional property prices – buying a house sight unseen.

Country real estate agents are reporting a higher number of property listings being snapped up by couples who are enduring lockdowns, preventing them from travelling for a viewing.

Seeking a major sea change, Victorian couple Martina Hughes and Rod Gordon began looking for a new home on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales. They settled on South West Rocks, a small coastal town at the mouth of the Macleay River.

“Neither of us had ever been to South West Rocks, yet we were drawn to the area,” says Hughes.

Unable to travel due to COVID-19 border restrictions, the couple turned to virtual tours to help them with their property search. After viewing five homes via zoom, they were able to choose a suitable property.

Prior to the purchase, they researched house sales in the area.

“We had a strict budget and knew how much properties were generally selling for,” says Hughes.

“House prices were on the rise; we expected to pay more than six or 12 months earlier.

“Overall, our process was a good experience; we purchased the home with most features we required”.

Her advice to anyone buying sight unseen is use virtual inspections where possible. “Pay attention to room sizes and the way a house is furnished to assess the size of the space,” she says.

“We wanted a spacious shed, rooms for work, good internet, natural light and close to nature. A virtual tour helped us see a house that met all our criteria.”

“It worked out beautifully for us and we love the house and location,” she says.

Steve Marks, from Ray White Whitsunday, in Queensland, says he has seen a jump in the number of properties being purchased sight unseen.

From July, 2020, to June, 2021, Marks settled 59 properties, eight or which were purchased by new owners who had never visited them. In the previous year, he settled 27 sales.

Staging video tours helps potential buyers, many of whom are locked down or are faced with major interstate travel restrictions, he says.

Marks says he highlights areas of a property that may be a concern to a buyer, such as cracks in plaster, worn carpet or any repairs that may be needed.

“I would rather provide full disclosure upfront, no matter how small, rather than they become known post settlement”, he says.

Daniel Watt, of South Coast Prestige Properties in Kiama, New South Wales, has seen a five per cent increase in properties being purchased sight unseen.

Like Marks, the reasons are similar – an inability to travel due to COVID-19, particularly expatriate Australians based abroad who want to return home.

“We use 3D virtual tour technology on sale listings,” Watt says. “This provides buyers with a clearer idea of what the property looks like and gives them more confidence to make an offer sight unseen”.

Rod Devlin, whose agency is based in Beechworth, Victoria, says the evolution of virtual tours and the host of information online has made buyers more comfortable with purchasing a property without ever having to visit it.

“Since the pandemic, about five per cent of our sales have been made this way,” Devlin says. There has also been a jump in the number of buyers who have sent a friend or relative to a property to conduct a Facetime live walkthrough.

“The ring of steel around Melbourne and travel restrictions into regional Victoria have necessitated this,” Devlin says. “We’ve also sold to people who are relocating to our region from interstate and don’t want to travel and then get caught out by a surprise lockdown.”

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

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