27 July 2022

'Rare success story' in Wagga's shrinking housing market

| Dione David
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View of Wagga

Riverina rents have increased by more than 16.5 per cent in the past year. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

In the past year the Riverina’s housing vacancy rates have shrunk to a historic low of 0.44 per cent, making it one of five regions most impacted by the state’s rental crisis.

Across the region rents have increased by more than 16.5 per cent while business continues to boom, attracting a rise in population and competition.

PRD Real Estate Wagga Wagga Department Manager Scott Jones said the region’s property managers are seeing unprecedented levels of frenzy in the market.

“People are applying for rentals before attending an inspection, so when the house goes on the market they’re already one step in front – that’s what it’s like at the moment,” he said.

“I have applicants sometimes offering $150 over the asking price.

“It’s a bit mad really.”

Scott said it was a tenant’s market pre-COVID. He recalled a time in 2017 when they managed about 60 vacant properties. They now have seven.

“Potential tenants had their pick of vacant properties then,” he said.

“In that kind of market, when you had a property that had been vacant for days, landlords showed more leniency. If a less-than-ideal application came across our desk, landlords might still be willing to give them a go.”

READ ALSO Riverina residents warned to buckle up for more rental stress

Scott explained the market was so tight and vacancies so inundated with high quality applications that disadvantaged locals were being “shut out”.

He said household income aside, some culturally or linguistically diverse families struggle with the application process.

“Right now, you can have multiple equal applications and the landlord essentially has to split hairs to choose which to go with. That hair might be that once, there was a hiccup with a bank transfer that smudged a tenant’s otherwise perfect record,” he said.

“So what chance does an application have if the applicant doesn’t yet have a rental record, has trouble gathering the necessary documents together or if they have an incomplete application due to a language barrier?”

The team at PRD approached Edel Quinn, a support service in Wagga with crisis accommodation, to get an understanding of the situation. They learned Edel Quinn had been helping people break down their otherwise insurmountable barriers to affordable housing in various ways, such as assisting the computer illiterate to complete applications.

Wagga PRD Department Manager Scott Jones

Wagga PRD Department Manager Scott Jones. Photo: PRD.

Scott has also worked with the Multicultural Council of Wagga Wagga for about 12 years and understands the additional challenges faced by the migrant population in the area.

Australia’s rental application process in a normal market is robust and complicated. Factor in a tight market, lack of process understanding and language barriers and the situation becomes dire.

But for one migrant family, this partnership recently yielded a happy ending.

“The place where they were living needed extensive renovation and they were given 90 days to vacate,” he said.

“They were going out there and getting knocked back time and again. They were down to a week and a half and still had gaps in their applications.

“The parents spoke very little English, so their children did a lot of talking and interpretation for them.”

READ ALSO Overwhelming optimism for Wagga’s future tempered by labour and housing challenges

The large Afghan family of seven were looking to rent a four-bedroom home – a deterrent for any landlord.

“Of course a landlord wonders how a family of seven could fit into a four-bedroom home without extra wear and tear on the property. But meeting this family, doing research on them, driving by their home, I found them to be beautiful people who kept their home immaculate,” Scott said.

He added that in a shrinking market, agencies like Multicultural needed property managers that would “go into bat for them” to get suitable applications over the line with landlords.

He shared his observations with the landlord who decided to give the tenants a chance.

“At the 30-day inspection the landlord was delighted,” he said.

“… these seven people living in a four bedder, you would think only two lived there because they’re minimalistic, live frugally and are so respectful of the property.

“In a market wherein potentially applications such as theirs wouldn’t normally get a look in, it’s a rare success story.”

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