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Building relationships with real estate agents

This case study featured in our report, The Home Stretch, in 2014. We have not updated the information in this case study.
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HSS caseworkers Dee-Anne Mace and John Mador, Multicultural Council of Wagga Wagga

The Multicultural Council of Wagga Wagga (MCWW) provides settlement services to newly-arrived humanitarian entrants in the NSW regional city of Wagga Wagga. To ensure that its clients have access to suitable housing, the organisation has established and nurtured working relationships with real estate agents in the area.

“As the manager of the organisation, staff and I have been very proactive,” says Belinda Crain, Manager of MCWW.

I went around to all of the real estate agents, introduced myself, talked about our client group and gave some education about our clients and where they’ve come from and explained what we could do and how we could work together.

Debbie Grentell is a Senior Property Associate at LJ Hooker Real Estate Agents in Wagga Wagga. “We have a good relationship with MCWW and our refugee tenants,” she says.

MCWW has provided briefings to some of our agents on the barriers faced by refugees to securing tenancies – the fact that they have no experience with contracts and have a limited understanding of tenancy rights and responsibilities. It has allowed us to get a better understanding of what these clients need.

At one stage there was a vacant supply of NSW Department of Housing low income properties in unpopular locations which had remained vacant over a long period of time and required maintenance. The properties were given by the Department to a real estate agent to sell or lease.

Initially the agent was unable to find suitable tenants. However, as the properties were located close to a meatworks where many refugee entrants were employed, the agent worked in partnership with support services and landlords to lease these properties to refugee families. The real estate agent also asked for the houses to be refurbished.

“We provided briefing to landlords about refugee tenants,” says Debbie. “We explained that they had no rental history or comprehension of maintenance of household goods which were new to them (like an oven or heating) and suggested ways to manage this.”

This resulted in an openness to work through any misunderstandings. “There was one time when an igniter on a stove kept clicking and the family called the fire brigade,” Debbie recalls. “The landlord understood why they did this and paid the cost.”

MCWW also continues to provide support through acting as an intermediary between clients and agents. As Belinda says, “real estate agents know they can call us at any time and we act to resolve issues as quickly as possible”. Debbie agrees. “We know that if we don’t have time to micromanage refugee tenants, we can call MCWW and they will help us out.”

Through working with MCWW, Debbie has come to see the value of assisting people from refugee backgrounds to find housing. “The property managers within our agency want to help these people,” she says.

The majority of refugees really appreciate our service and at the end of the day it’s a win-win situation for all parties: refugees, landlords the real estate agent and the service provider.

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