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Think the Canberra property market must be tanking because of COVID? Think again.

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You would be forgiven for thinking that COVID had dealt a blow to Canberra’s property market. But as industry veteran and Zango Director Matthew Herbert explains, it’s just not the case.

Real Estate agent Matthew Herbert is the first to admit he’s surprised as at how well the real estate sector has coped with COVID. Having been in the industry for 38 years, he had seen every economic downturn go hand in hand with a cooling of the real estate market.

“No one has ever lived through a crisis like this,” says Matthew. “But having been through many recessions and downturns, I was expecting that buyer inquiry for residential property would decrease significantly.”

However, when it came to COVID, it quickly became apparent that this would be a different story.

“[The decrease] hasn’t happened. Buyers are actually saying to us that there aren’t enough homes to look at and I don’t believe there has been any decrease in Canberra property values at all.”

Matthew is able to lend a unique perspective on the industry. As a franchisee of multiple Canberra L J Hooker branches he knows how clients are behaving when it comes to selling and buying. But as Joint Managing Director at Zango, Canberra’s locally-owned property website, he’s also able to analyse online trends—and says they haven’t slowed one bit.

“We’ve seen a huge uptick in buyer enquiries through websites—particularly Zango,” says Matthew, adding with a laugh that a lot of enquiries come from families who are finding their homes a tight squeeze.

“Those families who are locked down in smaller homes with the kids at home, they’re starting to say, ‘This is too small—we need to get out of this.”

Matthew explains that in previous downturns, high interest rates also played a significant role—not so now, with record low rates galvanising borrowers to stick to their plans and timelines.

“In the late ‘80s, those infamous 18% interest rates made it very hard for people to borrow. I think now with the way interest rates are, it’s fairly easy for people to borrow—especially if they have job security.”

Unsurprisingly, Canberra’s unique workforce has also played a role. The job security offered by many major industries—chief among them the federal public service—means that Canberrans knew sooner than most whether they would remain financially stable throughout the pandemic.

“I think pretty quickly people have worked out ‘Okay, so my job’s not under threat and interest rates are even lower—what a great time to borrow money’.”

9 Philip Hodgins Street, Wright, which sold during the COVID lockdown.

Matthew adds that there has been a flood of families realising their homes don’t suit their current needs—especially when it comes to staying home for long periods of time.

What this has translated into is a glut of buyers in the market, looking at a smaller-than-usual pool of properties. In fact, Matthew says that if you were looking to put your house on the market in 2020 and have held off, you might want to rethink your strategy—and fast.

“Anyone who is thinking of selling their property really should think about whether they come to the market now. It’s typical that people would say ‘We’ll wait until spring’ but what’s happening at the moment is buyers are starting to go ‘well there’s nothing out there to buy, I better just buy this one’.”

2 Timbs Street, Casey, which sold during the COVID lockdown. Credit: Lachlan Johnstone, Living Media.

As for restrictions on inspections, open homes and auctions, while none of these can operate ‘business-as-usual’, Matthew says it hasn’t stopped motivated buyers—or real estate agents.

“The serious buyers have said ‘I want to inspect’ and the agents have found [physically distanced] methods of how to get people through homes. The real estate sector has been particularly nimble when it came to creating new ways to inspect that were safe for both the home owner and prospective buyer.”

Zango, for instance, has responded by giving buyers the option to view properties via Virtual Tours and video walk-throughs, including the ability to schedule one-on-one appointments with agents. In some ways, narrowing down a selection to inspect has never been easier, says Matthew.

“I think instead of lobbing up on a Saturday afternoon, buyers are saying ‘I’ll just inspect and enquire online’.”

As for the final word on selling during COVID, Matthew has this to say:

“The thing to know is that there are a lot of people out there looking to buy and if someone has deferred their decision to sell because of COVID they should really rethink. I’d be counselling any potential seller to come to the market now.”

“Because what could potentially happen is that no one puts property on the market now and the prices stay strong then in spring, the market is flooded with new listings and then the buyers start to say, ‘Well there’s lots to look at and no rush to buy anymore’. I’ve seen it happen before.”

A quick glance at listing sites such as Zango and it’s clear to see that properties are getting snapped up quickly—often before even going to auction—making Matthew’s advice something to consider in this ever-evolving market.

Feature image: 33 Bettong Avenue, Throsby, which sold during the COVID lockdown.

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