What does 'price withheld' mean on property websites?


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If knowledge is power, then it's hard to think of a piece of information more powerful to prospective buyers than knowing how much the property they're eyeing off is worth.

Of course, prices are subjective to some degree, which is why getting a sense of the value of similar properties can be so useful. But as anyone who's ever been on the hunt for a home will attest to, individual property prices aren't always easy to track down - especially recently sold homes where the sale price has been withheld.

So, why aren't some property prices disclosed, and how easy is it to access sales price data should you need it? Let's get into it.

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How common is it for prices to be withheld?

Taking a dive into Domain's most recent auction data from December 17 reveals that it's not unusual for the price of a home to remain undisclosed after it's been sold.

Of the 626 properties listed by Domain as either having been sold at auction or before auction in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney on that date, just over one in five (138 in total) had a withheld price.

Now, this is just a snapshot of a single weekend of auctions and the proportion of properties with their price withheld varies from city to city, though according to Tim Snell, chief executive of Ray White New South Wales, it's most likely to happen in high-end markets.

"I'd suggest that it is really dictated by the value of the property, because prices are usually withheld when they are outliers. So if you're dealing with a luxury market, like acreage in Bowral or estate-style properties in the Eastern Suburbs [of Sydney] where privacy is a lot more paramount, it's far more common for the price to be withheld."

Why would a price not be listed?

The decision not to disclose a sale price ultimately rests with either the seller or the buyer of the property - a decision, notes Bobby Haeri, co-director of The Investors Agency, which is usually made for privacy reasons.

"A vendor could want to keep property price withheld for a number of reasons, it could be due to private and personal issues such as a divorce or loss of job," he says.

"In many regions, especially in the high end market where there is lots of competition between homeowners, a seller may not want their neighbours to know the price as it may not be as high as other sales in the street.

"A buyer may not want to disclose the sale price because they may have fallen in love with the property, however, paid more than the property was worth and they prefer others to not know that."

Haeri also suggests that in some situations, there might be motivation for real estate agents to push for the price to be withheld.

"Often agents will withhold the price of a property if the sale is at a lower price than previously. The reason the agent will not want to disclose the price is so other potential buyers do not get clarity on whether a market is declining in value."

Are withheld sale prices ever made public?

While a buyer or seller may wish to keep the price of their home undisclosed, the reality, says Snell, is that the price will always come out - it's just a matter of when.

"At the end of the day it's all public record and whilst you might not get the information on day one, once the property actually settles it needs to go through the titles office for the purposes of land tax and stamp duty, and there are a lot of governing bodies that require that information."

"And eventually, once that information has gone on to the public record, all of the websites that are actually figuring out what property values are worth, like realestate.com.au and Domain, end up uploading them publicly later."

Where can you find price data?

There are a couple of ways to look for the sale price of a particular property, the first of which are the specialist property listing websites that Snell alluded to, such as Allhomes, Domain, onthehouse.com.au and realestate.com.au, which provide detailed overviews and price histories of individual homes.

The second option is to go directly to the various state and territory government agencies that collect house price data, although there are often fees to access the information this way. Here's a list of some of the government portals around the country:

Failing those options, or if you're in a hurry to find out the information, you can always contact the real estate agent responsible for the sale.

"I find that 90% of the time the agent will give the exact number because it's usually the vendor or buyer who has asked them to not disclose publicly, so they are actually comfortable in sharing the sale price if asked privately," says Haeri.

"If the agent is being tight lipped, you can reword the same question to get an estimate, such as, 'Can you tell me if the property sold above $600,000?', or 'Can you tell me if the property sold between $600,000 and $630,000?", or "If my budget was $620,000, would I have been in the vicinity?'"

The argument for and against price transparency

As things currently stand there's a trade-off between the temporary privacy afforded to buyers and sellers who want it and, ultimately, the access prospective buyers have to sale prices once they hit the public domain. The way Snell sees it, there's merit to both.

"I think that there does need to be a bit of empathy for a vendor or buyer who doesn't want any Tom, Dick and Harry to go and find out what they paid for a property, because who knows what they had to go through in order to buy it," he says.

"But the counter to that is the modern demand of consumers in any industry, not just real estate, to have instant access to information. People don't want to make inquiries and they don't want to have to rely on a real estate agent or someone's opinion - they want to be able to do their own research, which is really paramount in making good decisions.

"If you're dealing in a marketplace where it's really common to have auctions, or no-price methods of sale, it's actually really important and valuable for prospective purchasers to have this information to be able to make educated decisions and to inform themselves about what properties are worth."

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Tom Watson is a senior journalist at Money magazine, and one of the hosts of the Friends With Money podcast. He's previously worked as a journalist covering everything from property and consumer banking to financial technology. Tom has a Bachelor of Communication (Journalism) from the University of Technology, Sydney.