Bundaberg’s Bill Moorhead on developing during COVID
Our CEO Kirsty Chessher-Brown interviewed the Bundaberg Branch’s Immediate Past President about development in Bundy during the pandemic.
Tell us about your COVID experience
Well, I didn’t see it coming, and I don’t think anyone did, but the reality is that as a business, it made us nimble and adjusting early on was key to our success. On March 25, we took our first step to responding to COVID challenges by having a meeting where we came away with three priorities to steer us through. Our first priority was to settle outstanding sales on our projects. Priority two was to actively create and generate new business. We knew that many in the market were likely to go quiet during this phase, so we wanted to get on the front foot. Our final priority was to ensure our two main projects looked better than ever. So we went overboard on presentation, including crazy amounts of money on irrigation, mowing, and presentation.
We also made sure we got on the front foot when HomeBuilder was announced. In the lead up, we knew the Federal Government was likely to make an announcement. UDIA along with other industry bodies was advocating well for stimulus – we knew something was going to happen. In preparation, we had our website updated. We emailed a stock list to all the real estate agents, and all the builders, so they knew exactly what was available and the price. And that served us really well and it’s something that we’ve really built on. Our website is updated daily with availability of property in real time so when something becomes available, the builders and real estate agents are alerted immediately.
I think we’ve done close to 40 sales since COVID started, including 10 before HomeBuilder was announced. There’s a window of opportunity so we’ve just decided to get on the front foot with it as much as we can.
Parts of regional Queensland have experienced a few quiet years. How do you see the current state of Bundaberg market and looking ahead, how do you see it faring over the next 6-12 months?
We see the future as really positive. The HomeBuilder grant has been a tipping point for the retail end of our business. I think the grant is likely to be more beneficial to the regions than the city areas because of the product price cap. We’ve need to be really careful about providing information to potential buyers and pre-qualifying potential purchasers. We’ve been very lucky to have stock on the ground, obviously some of our competitors are going to struggle to fit into the time limitations of HomeBuilder. We actually had 50 blocks ready to go on the market and that was great, so I think we are going to do well. I see the Bundy market particularly between now and Christmas as going ahead nicely, probably better than average. And I would even argue, that in the next 12 months during the construction phase of HomeBuilder that we’ll be busier than perhaps we’ve ever been. We talk about immigration, but the population of Australia is still increasing. I’m not going to talk about whether we are in for a V or U shaped recovery but the reality is we’re going to go through two soft quarters. I think we’re going to come out of this thing pretty well. You know I’m very parochial, but I think people have now realised that virus driven efficiencies such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams mean people can actively consider living in regional Queensland and working from home. Obviously we’re a lot cheaper and we’re not living on top of each other. This is a great opportunity, so we’re already gearing up for that marketing campaign in the calendar year 2021 with an emphasis on Victorians who want to move to Queensland. And, and I don’t blame them!
What’s your view on the various stimulus measures announced by all levels of government so far?
To be fair, there’s a lot of positives in this particularly for the industry. I honestly believe that the $25,000 federal boost was a sweet spot and there are many positive attributes, including applicability to all buyers, not just first home buyers. My main development is a second/third homebuyer estate, it’s not investor stock, so from my personal point of view, I think it’s very well targeted. I think the State Government’s regional boost is a bit of sweetener as well. I think they’ve got it pretty right and to the State Government’s credit they’ve allowed the construction industry to keep going through the health crisis and I think that was important. We, coined this term virus driven efficiency (VDE) and as an example, we’ve found many ways of turning this situation into a positive. We actually saved $6,000 to $7,000 a week, by being able to identify an opportunity to manage traffic closures as a result of COVID. You know, the world delivers something to you. Take advantage of it. Don’t just sit on your hands.
What will you take from COVID?
My favourite word of all time is accountability, but I think since COVID, it’s efficiency. We’ve had Zoom meetings with the site foreman, it’s changed the way we communicate. It’s cheap, it’s quick, it’s efficient. In some ways it’s better than being face-to-face, you know, even in better times we’ll definitely kepp things we’ve adopted during this period. We’ll continue to work from home, we’ll continue to use video conferencing.
We now insist on using DocuSign, I won’t put pen to paper again. And I think it’s a good thing for the environment too. Similarly, with PEXA – over 50% of our settlements now use PEXA. It’s a great product because within five minutes after settlement, monies are cleared and into the account.
Going forward, I’ve been cooking and I’ve been surfing a lot. I even did three half marathons in one week!
How do you think regional Queensland will fare post-COVID?
When you start to see Victoria and New South Wales settle down in terms of cases, I think there’s going to be massive demand to live in paradise (Bundy) for half the price. Why live in Bankstown, when you can live in Bundy for half the price? There has been a huge shift in electronic communication with the rollout of the NBN, all our estates have fibre to the premises which opens up a whole new game. Now there’s really no particular advantage in being 43 floors up in the middle of Pitt Street. In percentage terms, I honestly think the property market in the regions is going to vastly outperform Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.