Hunter real estate agents are discouraging Sydney and Central Coast residents from attending open houses in the region, even though they are allowed to under NSW's stay-at-home orders.
The Newcastle Herald reported on Saturday that a loophole in Health Minister Brad Hazzard's June 26 orders permitted Greater Sydney residents to drive to regional NSW for individual or open house inspections.
Asked on Monday if Mr Hazzard would address the loophole, a NSW Health spokesperson reiterated that "inspecting a potential new place of residence" is a "reasonable excuse" for leaving home during lockdown.
Open houses are banned in Greater Sydney under the orders, which expire on Friday but could be extended amid persistent daily coronavirus case numbers in the metropolitan area.
Real estate agent Brad Thornton said he had fielded "about five" inquiries last week from Sydney or Central Coast people keen to inspect properties in Newcastle.
"I've told them they couldn't," he said.
"I had one lady turn up at an open house on Saturday, even though I had said you can't come, and I just said to her, 'I can't let you in,' and I turned her away."
Mr Thornton said the public health orders could put agents in an awkward position when dealing with prospective buyers.
"I guess the number one thing for us is to ask the owners of the property, particularly houses that are owner occupied.
"They've got a right to refuse people coming through, for their own safety.
"I think most owners are going to say no to that request, in my experience.
"If an owner says they're happy for them to come through and it's not against the health orders, then I guess I'd have to revert to private inspections only, not turning up to an open house."
Mr Thornton said an extension to the lockdown could "press the issue harder" this weekend.
"If they go into further lockdown, one of the properties I've got at Swansea goes to auction the following week," he said.
"That's probably going to put more pressure on people to say, 'We might not be able to legally come up,' or push the issue to say, 'Yes, we can come up and we're going to.'"
Another agent said it was impossible to know where people at an open house were from unless he asked to see their driver's licence.
He said he was concerned that anyone coming to Newcastle to look at real estate was likely mixing with the local population in other ways.
"As if they're not going to be stopping for petrol or a coffee," he said.
One agent said her firm was asking for identification at open houses and turning people away if necessary.
Hunter New England Health public health physician Dr David Durrheim said on Friday that buying property "in my mind does not fall within the public's consideration of a reasonable excuse".
What we asked Health Minister Brad Hazzard:
The Newcastle Herald reported on Saturday about Greater Sydney residents being allowed to drive to regional NSW for open house inspections even though open houses are banned in Sydney at the moment. The story attracted a lot of interest in Newcastle and the Hunter. Will the minister look at closing this loophole?
Please attribute to a NSW Health spokesperson: People who have been in Greater Sydney since 21 June must follow the stay at home rules. That means they cannot leave home without a reasonable excuse. A reasonable excuse includes work if you cannot work from home and moving to a new place of residence including a business moving to new premises, or between different places of residence of the person, or inspecting a potential new place of residence. Taking a holiday is not a reasonable excuse. A real estate agent who is engaged to sell or lease property must ensure that any auction, open house or inspection or viewing of the property is conducted in accordance with their COVID-19 safety plan.
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