The trapped Melbourne home owners who can’t buy or sell as property inspections remain closed
Natalie Brennan has not got through the past seven months by collapsing in a heap on the floor, but speaking through the phone from her home in Berwick, her voice wobbles as she tells her story and it’s difficult to imagine how she is still standing.
It goes without saying that 2020 has been a year of intense struggle for anyone living in Melbourne. But for Ms Brennan, whose 49-year-old husband Gerard suffered two strokes — one in February and one in July — it has been emotionally and financially crippling.
Not only did Gerard have another stroke in July, he also lost his job as a forklift driver for a major pharmaceutical company. By the time Melbourne went into stage 4 lockdown in August, the family were down to one single part-time income, with soaring medical expenses, two children at home and no one to help with Mr Brennan’s care.
They made the heartbreaking decision to sell their house to try to reduce their debt but quickly discovered it was going to be near impossible with the Victorian government’s ban on private inspections.
They decided to hang on until September 14, when it was expected the restrictions would be eased enough to allow private inspections again. In the meantime, Ms Brennan worked up to seven days a week to try and support the family, leaving her two children Alana, 14, and Aidan, 12, at home to care for their father.
“I’ve drilled it into the kids to call an ambulance if there’s something wrong with dad. It’s pretty sad that we have to do this but we’re not allowed to have anyone come in and help and I’m just trying to make ends meet. The mortgage still has to be paid and the bills keep coming in,” she said.
“My mum has been giving us her pension to help us buy food. It’s absolutely desperate times.”
When Premier Dan Andrews announced a week ago the restrictions would be extended and private inspections not allowed until October 26, Ms Brennan said she broke down.
“I was gutted. Just absolutely gutted,” she said.
“I know there’s other people in bad situations as well but it’s a struggle. It’s all me. He can’t work, he can’t drive. I’m doing everything; going to work, I’m doing the shopping, working out all the bills, trying to keep us afloat, hanging on.”
Her voice cracks. “It’s all me.”
To some, the ban on one-on-one property inspections may sound trivial. But for the thousands of Melburnians suffering genuine hardship, another six weeks of real estate market inactivity will only deepen their financial strain.
Stephen Dullens, CEO of Ray White Victoria and Tasmania, said the issue affected not only buyers and sellers, but renters, too.
“No one can inspect anything. And, there would literally be hundreds and thousands of people who’ve lost their jobs and are struggling with mortgages, or struggling with rent, and this has left them completely in limbo,” he said.
“Of course, there are a lot of people in Melbourne who can wait but there are some who genuinely can’t. They are in genuine financial distress, or there’s illness, or divorce. This is about so much more than the real estate industry – it’s about the basic human need of shelter.”
Domain contacted the Department of Health and Human Services Victoria (DHHS) last week, requesting further explanation of the health advice behind the continued ban on private inspections, but a DHHS spokesperson did not provide details of why they couldn’t resume before October 26.
“Throughout the pandemic every change we make to restrictions is guided by data and advice from the chief health officer,” the spokesperson said.
“All real estate activity in metropolitan Melbourne must continue be carried out online. This includes auctions and open-for-inspections. In regional Victoria, auctions must be online and property inspections by appointment only.”
Ms Brennan said the ban made “absolutely no sense”.
“I get really angry because I see thousands of people shopping at Coles, but we can’t have a single person at the house for an inspection because that’s unsafe?” she said.
“If the government change their mind now and let us do private inspections it would mean everything. It would mean people could come through our house, see it, and buy it. We get ourselves out of this situation and try and move on with our lives.”
Selling a house in Melbourne has been incredibly difficult the past seven weeks during lockdown while private inspections have been banned. Photo: Peter Rae
Mike McCarthy, CEO of Barry Plant said, people were accepting of the first six weeks of the inspection ban but only with the “horizon at the end”.
“The news we would be locked down until October 26 was just a crushing blow to people looking to buy, sell or rent,” he said.
Mr McCarthy said heartbreaking stories of people needing to buy or sell for economic reasons continued to emerge daily.
“We’ve got someone who had two businesses go bankrupt during COVID and now needs to urgently sell the family home before the bank takes it, and can’t because 99 per cent of people won’t buy a property without being able to inspect,” he said.
“There’s a lot of people who can see the writing on the wall and want to sell in a controlled way to maximise the sale price to pay off my debts and start rebuilding their lives. They’re being denied that in Melbourne right now, when the really simple solution is that contactless, one-on-one inspections would resolve the most desperate cases.
“This is not about getting the property market back to normal. This is all about the people out there who are suffering genuine hardship.”
Also among them is Glen Waverley antiques dealer Lyn Davenport, who desperately needs to move.
The single mum with a 12-year-old daughter on the spectrum sold her home through Ray White Rosebud after her marriage broke down, and it doesn’t settle until mid-November.
“I cannot move until my home settles on November 17 but I also cannot look at other properties until October 26,” said the owner of the Waverley Bazaar, which she has owned for the past 15 years.
The antique shop has been closed for months and Ms Davenport has no income. The shop is an hour’s drive way from her home which means she cannot even do online sales.
“I cannot pack up the house because I don’t know what’s happening. I was thinking of making a new start in Ballarat or Bendigo but I am not buying a property over the internet, I have to walk inside,” she said.
“I think Dan Andrews is trying to do his best but there’s a lot of people in my position who need to do private inspections one-on-one to view property. I am not looking for a handout, just some dispensation.”
Ref: ELLEN LUTTON (on 13 Sep 2020). The trapped Melbourne home owners who can’t buy or sell as property inspections remain closed. Retrieved from https://www.domain.com.au/news/the-melbourne-homeowners-who-cant-buy-or-sell-as-property-market-remains-closed-986816/.
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