A three-bedroom house in the Tauranga suburb of Papamoa, an Auckland city apartment and a new-build in Auckland’s Long Bay are some of the country’s first sales since the lockdown where buyers have bought properties without ever stepping foot in them.

Add in homes that have sold under the digital hammer and the contracts that were in negotiation before lockdown and are now signed and sealed, and you have picture of a New Zealand real estate market that is evolving in challenging times.

Martin Cooper, managing director of Harcourts Cooper & Co on Auckland's North Shore, says that agents in his 17 offices have closed 17 conditional contracts since lockdown began. And four of them were for properties where buyers had not visited the property before government restrictions to halt the spread of the coronavirus came into effect.

“For a new-build in Long Bay [we were marketing], the buyers just looked at the floor plans and photographs. The property was situated where they went for exercise walks so they had looked at the outside, and they were prepared to enter a contract subject to inspection within five days of the country going back to Level 2," Cooper says.

Cooper says he had offers on a property in Westmere from two sets of buyers who had not even been through it.

“They just liked the address, they liked the price,” he said, of the $950,000 deal.

52 Sussex Street, in Auckland's Grey Lynn, sold under the hammer online after 21 bids.

The company also held an online auction for property in Hillcrest in which three bidders pushed the price to $1.2 million.

“In uncertain times, people want to have certainty. They know they can’t settle until five or 10 days after lockdown, so they can get on with their life after lockdown ends.”

Tauranga Eves agent Vince Heuberger says the buyer of a brick house on a generous 763sqm section in a popular Papamoa cul de sac didn’t even have email: her son sent images and property details to the retiree’s neighbour, who printed them out and left them at a safe social distance for her to pick up.

“There was no floor plan, no video - I just talked it through with her on the phone for over an hour, answering questions about the flooring, the rooms, every little thing. It was quite fun,” says Heuberger of the house at 18 Savannah Place.

The vendor had not wanted open homes anyway, so was happy to run outside to measure the parking area to ensure the buyer’s camper van would fit.

Heuberger says the buyer knew the area well, liked the size of the section and was familiar with two or three other properties that had sold in the area through the summer, so didn’t want to miss out.

18 Savannah Place, in Papamoa, Tauranga, sold to a buyer who didn't even have email.

“The seller is delighted. The price is what she’d hoped for from the planned auction. And, the buyer is really comfortable with her decision - she had decided that it was the neighbourhood for her.”

In Christchurch, Sam Cowdy, of Cowdy’s Real Estate, worked with his clients, builders who were just finishing a new property, to squeak in videographers to site and then worked remotely to produce a property video and 3D virtual tour.

“They were keeping their distances to get the footage. We can now get people to come and look. Then we can invite expressions of interest and offers subject to viewings, inspection reports and so on when we’re back to Level 2.”

On Auckland’s North Shore, independent auctioneer Tim Obern, of Apollo Auctions, sold four out of eight lots in a series of online auctions from Thursday to Saturday after lockdown, with more sold this week.

One property, in Sea Vista Ave, Beachhaven, had six registered bidders and went for $1,122,500, comfortably over the CV of $1.05 million. A further two properties sold under the hammer on Thursday for $1.035 million and $1.025 million, "pretty close' to vendor expectations.

Obern streamed the auctions from his living room. Bidders had agents calling out their bids via telephone, while they watched in Google Meeting as the numbers were updated on the professional auction board appearing behind him.

“The buyers said it was quite surreal. They were watching a broadcast to see me take their bids,” says Obern. “We’d used this method in rooms before, but this was the first time we’d online streamed.”

Obern says the successful bidders and underbidders had been looking for a while, adding that while nobody could be certain about the future, buyers had secured a great interest rate and were comfortable about affordability.

In the pipeline is a May auction for a pair of investor properties in Mangere, South Auckland. “If lockdown is still on, investors will buy sight unseen, just using the property management company’s rental photos. They don’t need more than that,” Obern says.

This week Ray White's chief operating officer Gavin Croft, who was in quarantine in Brisbane, successfully sold a property in Auckland, with technical support from Sydney. There were three registered bidders for the Grey Lynn home, which sold under the hammer for $1.45 million.

Ray White Remuera agent Nick Lyus sold a 1930s bungalow in Waiohua Road, Greenlane, at an online-phone auction run by company auctioneer John Bowering. Seven registered bidders bid over the phone, all watching on Google Hangouts. The final two bidders drove the final price to $1.55 million, well above the CV of $1.275 million.

43 Waiohua Rd, in Auckland's Greenlane, sold during lockdown for $1.55 million.

“The buyers were cashed up and ready to go. It’s their time and they’re not worried about it - they’re going to live in this house for some time,” says Bowering.

“We asked them afterwards [about the process] and they said they felt completely comfortable, it was a much safer way to do it.”

Lyus adds: “We had only one weekend of open homes, with 30 groups through, so we had to throw away the rule book. At the end, bids were going up by $5000 and $10,000, people were afraid of missing out.”

Lyus adds that the underbidders, one of whom hadn’t viewed the property in person, are still all keen to keep buying, joking that they’re "battle-hardened" and very comfortable about the new way of transacting real estate.



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