With international travel off the cards for the foreseeable future, and people forced to work and school from home, Warrnambool's real estate market has become hot property.
When the federal government, in early June, announced its stimulus package for the housing sector, building designers noticed an almost immediate upswing in business.
And with international flights grounded and travel plans scuttled, some have taken the opportunity to jump into the market for the first time instead.
Property prices across the city have remained strong throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, according to real estate agents.
Merri Designs building designer Mark Bourke said the federal government's housing stimulus package had made an impact on the south-west housing industry.
"There's quite a positive buzz going around now within our industry," Mr Bourke said.
"I've just been talking to another building designer who's saying the same thing - all of a sudden they're busy and things are looking up and there's a bit of positivity about the industry."
Atlas Building Designs' Mark Zanos agrees and says other trades - mainly builders - had reported they were already "flat out".
"They know if we're busy they're going to see those plans in three-to-six months," Mr Zanos said.
In early June, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced its HomeBuilder package as part of its post-COVID-19 economic recovery package.
Grants of $25,000 would be made available for those looking to build new houses, including first-home buyers, under the $680m scheme.
With the state government already providing a $20,000 bonus, first home builders would be $45,000 better off.
There's quite a positive buzz going around now within our industry.Mark Bourke
Homes, including land value, must be worth under $750,000 and contracts have to be signed by December 31 with work to start within three months of signing.
Individuals must earn less than $125,000 a year while households must be under $200,000.
The package also includes $25,000 grants for home renovation projects between $150,000 and $750,000.
Mr Bourke said it was pretty much the day or two after the PM announced the package inquiries started to come in.
"Prior to that the rate of inquiry had been well down, there's no doubt about that," he said.
He said the number of people taking up his services had doubled because of the government cash on offer.
It also meant getting staff back to work.
"The JobKeeper's been pretty good for us. I had my staff on reduced hours and now they're back on full-time," Mr Bourke said.
"That's got a lot to do with that new grant that's out there."
Mr Bourke said they were getting lots of work for patios, decks and pergolas as well as new major work and new homes.
He urged people to be aware the $750,000 maximum spend to get the grant included the cost of land as well.
"I've come across a couple of clients that weren't fully on top of it," he said.
"If you're buying a block of land that's worth $250,000, then you've only got $500,000 to spend on your house."
He said the rules for extensions were a bit different - a $150,000 to $750,000 renovation project qualified for the grant as long as overall value of the property didn't exceed $1.5 million.
"It's put the smaller job out of the picture to a fair degree. At $150,000 that's a fair renovation," Mr Bourke said.
"All my clients seem to be people who have the finance or have the ability to borrow.
"It outclasses quite a few people."
Mr Bourke said the grants had stimulated the economy after a two-month quiet time.
"The problem with it is it ends on December 31 this year and the contract needs to be signed by then and a build start within three months of that date.
"But the way the virus is going at the moment it seems we're going a bit backwards.
"It will be interesting to see what else comes up as a relief."
Mr Zanos said most of the inquiries he had were for new dwellings and they started to roll in on the day the Prime Minister made his announcement.
"I had two or three on that day and they've continued since," he said.
"The phone was pretty quiet there for two-to-four weeks and then all of a sudden people started ringing.
"I think we all thought the worst when we went into that initial lockdown.
"It started to get busy again."
Mr Zanos said the issue with the stimulus package was how hard it would be to keep up with the tight timeframe.
He said the projects that didn't have to go through council had a better chance of meeting the six-month timeline.
"The ones that have to get approval, they might struggle," he said.
"Some people are building regardless and not worried about that or don't meet the criteria.
"Some people were maybe about to do it anyway, and then COVID came along and they put everything on hold."
Mr Zanos said some people who still had jobs during the lockdowns may have been able to save some money during that time by not doing anything, and when the stimulus opportunity came along they decided they'd be mad not to take it up.
Travel budget turns into house deposit
When plans to spend 18 months travelling overseas were scuttled by the COVID-19 pandemic, Warrnambool's Bernadette Meade opted for plan B - buying a house.
Ms Meade said she and her partner were meant to fly to South America on May 7 for a 12 to 18-month adventure which would have also taken them to the USA and possibly Canada.
With international travel looking uncertain for the foreseeable future, the couple instead decided about eight weeks ago to use their travel budget to buy their first home.
"We'd been planning the overseas trip for about three years and we saved pretty hard for the last 18 months," she said.
She said the couple hadn't even been thinking about buying a house until their travel plans were thwarted.
They now plan to start saving again for when they can make their overseas travel dreams a reality.
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