On Tuesday, 24 March 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a direction that Australians were to stay home “unless absolutely necessary”.
That direction had numerous impacts on the community, one of which saw the banning of real estate auctions and open house inspections.
“Real estate auctions and open house inspections, that cannot continue,” Mr Morrison had said in a national press conference following a meeting of the newly formed national cabinet.
The announcement had an almost immediate effect, with bans coming into effect just hours later at midnight on 25 March 2020.
At the same time, auction houses were prevented from housing gatherings of people. Other services banned at the same time included beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, nail salons and tattoo parlours.
“Going out for the basics, going out for exercise, perhaps with your partner or family members, provided it’s a small group, that’s fine,” the Prime Minister had said.
However, “going outside and going out and participating more broadly in the community” suddenly became a no-go.
“That means BBQs of lots of friends, or even family... coming together to celebrate one-year-old birthday parties and those sorts of things, we can’t do those things right now,” Mr Morrison had said.
The newest tightening of restrictions came hours after the Real Estate Institute of Australia’s (REIA) president, Adrian Kelly, had issued a statement of his own, “calling on all real estate agents across Australia to make significant changes to the way they conduct their business”.
It had been written in response to an earlier direction from the government that required one-on-one property inspections, and the cessation of open-air auctions, and if anything, highlights the chaotic speed at which the COVID-19 situation was evolving in Australia.
The directions came less than a week after RBA made an emergency decision to drop the cash rate to the then record-low level of 0.25 of a percentage point — less than three weeks after the rate had dropped to just 0.5 of a percentage point.
It was around the same time that Australian supermarkets were struggling through “toilet paper gate”, and the CEO of Harcourts International’s property management division, Sadhana Smiles, had outlined how the real estate industry needed to be better prepared for a crisis.
At the time, Ms Smiles said “COVID-19 has brought to the surface glaring shortfalls on business practices that we really should have been across. Simple things like being able to work from home, cloud versus server-based systems, paperless offices enabling easy access to data, outsourcing administration work and trust accounting.”
Looking at each of those “simple things” the CEO did raise, it’s clear that the industry has come a very, very long way since the pandemic’s early days.