REINSW answers the big questions on real estate’s roadmap to reopening

The Real Estate Institute of NSW (REINSW) has sought to clarify some of the confusion as the industry returns to work after prolonged lockdowns.

Taking to Facebook on Monday and Tuesday, REINSW President Leanne Pilkington and Chief Executive Officer Tim McKibbin provided Q&A sessions answering some of the top questions that agencies, leaders and employees continue to ask about returning to a new normal of business.

Ms Pilkington and Mr McKibbin said the REINSW had been in regular contact with various departments of the NSW Government, and an updated COVID Safety Plan had now been provided, but confusion around some issues still remained, particularly when it came to whether people were required to be vaccinated to attend open for inspections.

“So we’re still getting lots and lots of questions on the helpline about auctions and opens,” Ms Pilkington said.

“We know that the new COVID plan has been updated, but because it doesn’t specifically say it’s ok (to attend an onsite open or auction without being vaccinated) people are worried.

“But we know, don’t we Tim, that so long as they don’t say you can’t. It means you can.”

Mr McKibbin agreed that buyers and agents didn’t need to be vaccinated to attend onsite open homes and auctions, but said he would ideally have liked the the revised safety plan to be more specific.

Ms Pilkington said she understood why it had been done that way.

“When Fair Trading came back to us they said, ‘We can’t say you don’t need to be vaccinated for opens and auctions, because then we would have to list all of the other things that you don’t need to be vaccinated for’,” she explained.

“So I do kind of understand it from their perspective.”

Here’s a recap of the questions put to Mr McKibbin and Ms Pilkington along with their responses…

Opens and onsite auctions – do you (buyers or agents) have to be vaccinated?

Tim McKibbin: No, you don’t.

Do we have to wear masks in the office?

Tim McKibbin: Yes.

Can we do routine inspections?

Tim McKibbin: Yes, I think you can. But the biggest hurdle you’re going to face is whether or not the tenant will allow you into the property.

What if the tenant doesn’t let you in?

Tim McKibbin: Then I think at a pragmatic level and at a practical level, then you’re not getting in.

By the time you object to that and end up in the tribunals, put all your evidence together and say that’s unreasonable, we’re going to be at the 80 per cent hopefully. And then there’ll be a different set of rules, and we’ll have to deal with them when we get there.

What if you have staff in the office who are refusing to carry out rental inspections?

Tim McKibbin: That’s an employment question. Once you start to get into whether or not an employee should do this, or is it unreasonable to ask, it’s outside of what we do.

Leanne Pilkington: Ultimately, people have got to do the things that are required under their job description. Give REEF (Real Estate Employer’s Federation) a call if you’re a REEF member.

Tim McKibbin:  I will dance around some of the big-ticket items in employment. If you’re not vaccinated, for example, you are required to stay at home unless it is not reasonably practical for you to do your job at home, then you can come in.

If you are vaccinated, you have an entitlement to stay at home if you can do your job.

Can unvaccinated tradespeople come into the office?

Tim McKibbin: It depends on your policy about what it is that you’re prepared to accept coming into your offices.

There’s an argument that says that real estate agent’s offices are not captured as in pubs and restaurants where you’ve got to have the COVID check-in and all the rest of it, and you’ve got to be vaxed to get in.

I don’t subscribe to that view. I think the better view is that you are.

Now, if I’m wrong, and I’m being overcautious, then you’re not going to get into trouble but on the other side of it, if it you should be doing it and somebody comes in, then you’ve got an issue.

Plus, if somebody is unvaccinated and they come into your office you’ve also got questions about health and safety of your team.

If you’ve got somebody that isn’t vaccinated coming in to pick up keys or whatever then meet them outside and hand the keys over there.

Leanne Pilkington: As a business owner, you have got the ability to make a policy appropriate for your office.

You’ve got an obligation for the work, health and safety of your team.

Tim McKibbin: And also other people, that are other consumers, that you’ve allowed in your office because they are fully vaccinated.

Can unvaccinated tradespeople do work at a rental property?

Tim McKibbin: You’ve got the same issue, haven’t you? I think the very first question you’ve got to deal with is you’ve got to find out whether or not your tenant is happy to have that person in their home.

I think you’ve got to be upfront with the tenant and you’ve got to say to the tenant, this particular tradesperson is not vaccinated. Are you comfortable having them in your home?

It’s got to be done by way of consent and if you can get that in writing or confirm it with them because as you know, once it all goes sideways, everybody’s looking to pass the buck to somebody.

Can a vendor refuse access to an unvaccinated agent or potential buyer?

Tim McKibbin: Yes, it’s their home, absolutely. You are not required to allow people, within reason. You can’t discriminate against people on the grounds of say ethnicity.

Leanne Pilkington: But saying no access to somebody who’s unvaccinated is not discrimination. Right?

Tim McKibbin: I don’t believe that to be, no.

What if an agent or consumer has a vaccination exemption?

Leanne Pilkington: Yes, that is okay. If people have got a medical exemption, they are to be treated as if they’re vaccinated.

Are open for inspections occurring?

Leanne Pilkington: Yes, open for inspections are ok to occur.

Can we open the office if all of our staff are not vaccinated?

Tim McKibbin: You can go to the office, if you’re all unvaccinated provided you can’t do your job from home.

Leanne Pilkington: And that’s the thing, right? How much of our work can’t we do from home? If somebody is unvaccinated, they have an obligation to work from home if they can.

Tim McKibbin: I think what you do is you look at the law, you look at some best practice stuff, and you throw in a huge dose of common sense here, and also just accepting what the market wants.

If you take the decision not to be vaccinated, then as far as competing with those people out there in the workforce, that have taken the decision to be vaccinated, you are you are going to struggle, because a great percentage of the market is just not going to want to talk to you.

How many people are allowed in the house at the same time for open homes?

Tim McKibbin: So you need 4sq m of space per person (inside). Outside you need 2sq m, but everyone with their masks on and you must comply with your COVID Safety Plan.

Can in-rooms auctions be conducted this week?

Leanne Pilkington: Yes, they can but at auction houses you do actually have to check the vaccination status. So only double-vaxed people can go to in-rooms auctions.

How many buyers can travel from Sydney to the regions to inspect property now with a permit? Can it be more than one and for purposes other than owner-occupiers?

Tim McKibbin: There’s no permits anymore, you don’t need to have a permit when you travel. Providing that the trip is genuine, then the people who come, can come, provided they are looking at property.

You can view Tuesday’s Q&A session with Ms Pilkington and Mr McKibbin here.

You can view Monday’s Q&A session with Ms Pilkington and Mr McKibbin here.

If you have any further questions, feel free to reach out to Elite Agent here, and we’ll set about having them answered.

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Cassandra Charlesworth

Cassandra Charlesworth is a features writer for Elite Agent Magazine with over 15 years’ journalism experience in metropolitan and regional newsrooms. She has a specialist interest in real estate, tech disruption and a good old-fashioned “yarn”.