Nigel O’Neil: real estate snakes and ladders

There have been a lot of winners but also some losers in the real estate industry in the past two years. Nigel O'Neil examines the key ups and downs, including why the property management industry is at a pivotal turning point.

The past two years in Victoria have been like a bizarre game of snake and ladders.

For every ladder climbed, a snake of extraordinary length was waiting for us.

We endured six strict lockdowns, and real estate activities were severely curtailed each time. 

It was only through technology and innovation that we could even get our feet on any of the ladders and avoid sliding down a waiting snake.

But now we are learning to live with Covid. The board is getting back to normal, and those snakes are shrinking.

While not yet back to what it was, life is certainly headed that way. 

Not all Victorians (or Australians) were affected equally. There have been winners and losers in many aspects of life and real estate. 

So what were they? 

Winner: regional and coastal property owners

Strict lockdowns forced people to re-evaluate their quality of living and their surroundings. 

Having space in and around your home became important. 

The fact that regional areas, generally speaking, didn’t have the severity of restrictions as city-folk certainly fuelled a rush to relocate – particularly when a commute was no longer important. 

While the generally lower housing prices in the country sweetened the appeal, the competition for the available properties provided nice windfalls to regional property owners.

Outer metropolitan coastal areas such as the Mornington Peninsula also experienced a gold rush.

Winner: blue chip downsizers

Since late 2021, the Melbourne market has experienced meteoric growth and is only now starting to slow down. 

Anyone in a prestigious suburb saw their home equity skyrocket, and downsizers could bank on putting a healthy amount of their selling price away after purchasing. 

Winner: any agent who could list 

Such was the pent up demand post-lockdowns that any sales agent who could list a property was guaranteed to have multiple buyers trying to win it.

If an agent could convince the seller to auction, the commissions stacked up as in this market, the competition that auctions generate has unearthed mind-blowing results. 

Losers: property management departments

In Victoria, property management has been engulfed in a perfect storm.

It started with property managers being forced to bear the emotional brunt of renters’ despair and the anger of rental providers due to the effects of COVID-19. The emotional toll was significant.

Then they faced the biggest shake-up in rental legislation in more than 20 years – introduced in the middle of a pandemic. 

There was the intense learning aspect and having to deal with rental providers who realised their property no longer met the new minimum standards and were faced with either outlaying a lot of money to bring their property up to scratch or selling.

Property managers have left the industry in droves – placing even more pressure on those remaining. 

This may be a pivotal moment in this arm of our industry in Victoria. We need to re-think how we support people doing a very demanding and emotionally invested job. 

The business’s rent roll is a tangible, tradeable asset, and, as business owners, we need to recognise how important the custodians of our rent roll are and reward them accordingly.

We also need to leverage technology to reduce the essential but mundane activities that gobble up their time – time that property managers could spend far more effectively in ways that will build the business. 

Losers: business leaders grappling with WFH

If we’d had this pandemic, with similar lockdowns, in the 1970s, most businesses would have gone to the wall. 

The ability that technology delivered for so many people to work effectively from home saved many businesses.

However, as a result, the traditional working model changed forever. Many people want to retain this flexibility, and this is a challenge for many leaders who want to get people back into the office, get the energy levels up, and re-invigorate team culture. 

This needs to be balanced with the knowledge that people are reassessing their lives and priorities.

People are making decisions based on quality of life rather than the quantity of their paycheck.

Where many leaders struggle is in finding effective ways to engage with those team members who aren’t in the office as much.

You don’t have the opportunity to walk up to their desk and ask them how they are going.

Worse, it can become a matter of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. There are missed opportunities for utilising their skills and time if you don’t keep in regular contact. 

It can be a challenge to address this – but the world has changed, and as leaders, we need to be agile in adapting to change and broad-minded in considering solutions.

Meeting your business goals must be your guiding light in making decisions on workplace flexibility. 

As we move through the second half of 2022 and roll the dice for our next business move, it’s reassuring to see the proportion of snakes to ladders is evening out. 

That opportunities are just as plentiful as the challenges.

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Nigel O'Neil

Nigel O’Neil is the Chief Executive Officer of The Barry Plant Group. For more information go to