CBD renters missing amid crisis

By Meg Hill

Real estate professionals are navigating a market that is unprecedented in their careers. Belle Property’s Carlton and Melbourne leasing manager Suzie Inglis described the current environment for CBD News.

“It’s a situation that none of our team has ever encountered before, so we are utilising technology to innovate and adapt daily in the way we are communicating with tenants and landlords in order to still have people viewing properties, securing tenancies and keeping prices competitive,” Ms Inglis said.

In the CBD, the property market had begun to feel an impact from the global migration slowdown long before Australia’s dramatic step-up in travel bans and restrictions in the first half of March.

It was the impact of the first ban on travel from China announced in January. The CBD, occupied by many international students, was disproportionately affected.

Ms Inglis said there had been a “huge drop” in the international student market and the corporate market.

“In general, we’ve seen a big impact in the CBD and very close suburbs. We first started to notice it roughly three or four weeks ago when Chinese students were having their flights and visas cancelled,” she said.

Ms Inglis said students had started to trickle back from overseas and the market improved slightly, but there was still a “huge discrepancy with previous years”.

“Compared to the last few years, people would fight to secure the property by offering more rent per week or a few months paid upfront,” she said.

“This year, I have barely had people coming through for the inspections and because of the current market, there are a lot of vacant properties for the tenants to choose from.”

518 Swanston St, a building largely occupied by international student renters, had vacancies at a time of year which would normally see it completely occupied. Many of the high-rises around the city are also student accommodation bases and Ms Inglis said they were struggling too.

The corporate market, like the international student market, is often very busy at this time of year as executive clients move interstate or overseas to start new jobs.

“January to March is usually the biggest time of year, because a lot of jobs are starting. People move to Melbourne to start a new contract with a certain company,” Ms Inglis said.

“But everyone has pushed pause on expanding, conferences aren’t being held, and people are being told to stay put.”

“A lot of furnished properties that get those types of clients and students are sitting vacant. We’re really struggling to fill them. We’re dropping rents and there’s still nobody.”

Ms Inglis said flexibility would be needed in the coming months.

“People still need to move and properties are still leasing, however, I think landlords are going to have to be very flexible over the next few weeks and months to be able to accommodate the logistics of people moving if a lockdown is imposed.” •

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