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Channel 9's The Block pays $3.6 million for terraces; 3 out of 4 fail to sell. Watchdog investigates The Block agents for underquoting.
Topic Started: 22 Nov 2010, 09:06 AM (11,459 Views)
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Block sales tend to be in bubble of their own

November 22, 2010

Irrational exuberance characterised the bidding at the past two auction finales of the Channel Nine real estate renovation series, The Block.

It resulted in all seven of the subsequent sales - three from the Bondi series in 2003 and all four of the Manly series in 2004 - being without profit.

The owners of one Manly unit are currently seeking offers of more than $800,000. It last sold for $820,000 in 2007 and for $795,000 at its 2004 auction.

It is to be hoped The Block sheds its bubble price antecedents at this week's Vaucluse series finale.

The four estate agents have been giving people inspecting the apartments a $900,000-plus price guide.

At that level it will be below cost, but higher than the suburb's $800,000 average price for a three-bedroom unit so far this year, according to Australian Property Monitors.

Vaucluse three-bedder prices have started at $570,000 this year, with a 92 sq m 1960s Diamond Bay Road unit which last sold in 2002 for $480,000. The dearest sale has been $1,275,000 for a unit in a New South Head Road complex, Avignon. It was initially sold for $1,390,000 in 2001 and listed with a $1.75 million asking price earlier this year.

A three-bedroom Towns Road unit was passed in at $1.08 million at the weekend, contributing to the weekend's weakened 51.7 per cent overall Sydney clearance rate.

The invitation-only Tuesday night auction results will be eagerly dissected - presumably before Wednesday's show - by commentators seeking a sense of the direction of housing prices.

Possibly sitting second only to arguments on climate change, there have been 375 mentions of the term ''housing bubble'' in metropolitan newspapers so far this year. There were 307 last year and 280 in 2008.

Not surprisingly, the peak usage of the term was in 2003, when there were rightly 540 references.

The debate was reignited at the weekend with the emergence of two Treasury officials at odds about the need for alarm over recent house price growth.

Phil Garton, the manager of Treasury's macro financial linkages unit, was preparing briefs in June for the incoming government.

His brief prompted Steve Morling, from the domestic economy division, to suggest it mention ''a bit more about the risks''.

''The elephant in the room is house prices or more specifically the risk of a precipitous drop in them, perhaps from an external shock or perhaps from their own internal dynamics when affordability constraints or capacity debt levels see prices and expectations of house prices start to move in the opposite direction,'' Mr Morling wrote.

Mr Garton agreed that there would be risks if the fundamentals of low interest rates, unemployment, and financial deregulation reversed significantly, but he maintained the price growth in the early 2000s was based on a lagged response to improvements in the fundamentals.

He also questioned how Australia could have maintained a bubble for more than six years.

Ever willing to repeat his bearish sentiment, Steve Keen, from the University of Western Sydney, still maintains the house price bubble exists.

''It has been produced and sustained by an unspoken alliance between a government sector that has used house price inflation as a surrogate to macroeconomic management, and a financial sector that has funded speculation on house prices in preference to business investment,'' Professor Keen told the Family Fortunes and the Global Financial Crisis symposium held this month by the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.

''It is larger than the US bubble was before it burst, and its resurrection by the Rudd government's first home vendors' boost was the major reason why Australia avoided recession in 2009.''

The doomsayer economist - who forecast in 2008 that property prices could fall by 40 per cent - sold his Surry Hills apartment for $540,000 in November 2008 with recessionary fears in mind. The price of his two-bedroom Chalmers Street unit represented a 4.4 per cent annualised growth on its $480,000 purchase price. His purchase in 2006 reflected 16 per cent annual growth on its $410,000 sale in 2005.

Professor Keen's sale of the 89 sq m unit reflected $6060 a square metre.

The four sales of two bedroom units in the block so far this year reflect $6075 a square metre.

Strictly speaking, after inflation, the Surry Hills sales represent a small price decline, but the movement suggests neither a bubble nor the sky falling in.
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Tricks of the tradies

Stephen Lacey
November 22, 2010 - 11:14AM

Comments 1

Nowhere to hide... host Scott Cam and The Block's contestants must face the market.

Nowhere to hide... host Scott Cam and The Block's contestants must face the market.

There's plenty of fudging on renovation reality shows, writes Stephen Lacey, unless there's an auction involved.

Anybody who has renovated a house or tried to spruce up a yard knows what an ordeal it is. So why does it seem so bright and rosy on all those home-makeover shows?

Clearly, there's a certain dramatic licence - a licence that might see 30 tradesmen and labourers hiding off camera, waiting to swoop with their tools.

On Seven's short-lived garden renovation show Ground Force, up to 15 people would work in the wings to complete the task. "We'd sometimes have four carpenters and six labourers on site," a former crew member says. "And it was never acknowledged on air."
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The same thing happened on Nine's version of the premise, Backyard Blitz. "The presenters would do a piece to camera where they were seen to do something while a team of 20 tradesmen came in and actually finished the job," our source says.

The executive producer of Better Homes & Gardens, Craig Walsh, says his show has assistants dressed in green "crew shirts" working alongside presenters in clear view of the camera.

"We don't make out that one presenter does all the work," he says. "Obviously, where you are trying to shoot in a day we would have items made ahead in various stages of completion ... You have to realise the cost of having cameramen and sound guys sitting around waiting for something to be finished is astronomical."

Tim Cobbin has been around home-renovation shows for years. He was executive producer on DIY Rescue, Our House and Location, Location and, at present, works on Domestic Blitz. He believes it's perfectly legitimate to prepare things in advance to keep to a schedule. "They do it all the time on cooking shows," he says.

But are such rushed renovations really up to scratch? "It's fair to say we get everything 'camera ready' in the time frame we allow ourselves," Cobbin says. "Our team would always be back the next day to do any fix-ups and finish any little things that need doing."

One crew member of Nine's Homemade, which aired last year, says he was surprised at the thoroughness of the renovations. "I was astounded at the kind of money they'd throw at it," he says.

Another of the show's crew was not so impressed. "The show was all about interior renovations and I thought the exteriors often suffered, because it wasn't shown on camera," she says.

"One time they bricked up a window and, from the inside it, looked great because it was all plastered over and painted - but from the outside you could see a big patch of brickwork."

Ditto when it comes to Changing Rooms. A source says paint and filler covered a multitude of sins. "I've seen them paint straight over wallpaper," he says. "Often we'd be filming and the walls would be still wet. Or there were things hanging loosely in position for the camera. A builder would have to come back and nail stuff together properly."

Things are different on shows such as The Block and Selling Houses Australia, which juggle the needs of reality TV with those of the marketplace. "We really do the makeovers in the three days allocated," says Sonia Harding, producer of Selling Houses Australia.

"There is no cheating, seriously. I suppose the only trick is we don't tackle the entire house. Our host Andrew Winter identifies key problem areas and we focus on those, working within a budget of only $12,000 to $15,000. Our core team is supported by a build manager, build assistant and a design assistant. We do bring in tradesmen but that's all shown. There's no trickery."

Gavin Atkins and Warren Sonin (better known as Gav and Waz) featured on series one of The Block. "Honestly, there were no tricks as to the work itself, everything was 100 per cent real," Sonin says. "There was no Channel Nine fairy helping us behind the scenes."

Quite the contrary, it appears. On The Block, drama equals ratings. "The producers [Julian Cress and David Barbour] wanted to see us struggle because it makes good TV," Sonin says.

"On day one we needed to find a hardware store and there was one literally around the corner but nobody was allowed to tell us. And so we drove all over the eastern suburbs looking for one."

Adds Atkins: "The producers loved creating drama. One day we turned up with a floor sander to give us a quote. We opened the door to our apartment and found Channel Nine had ripped up all our floorboards. A camera crew were waiting in there to get our reaction. They were always pulling stunts like that."

Another trick, Atkins says, was to cut off the electricity supply half an hour before a room was due for completion. "The producers would tell us it was due to a problem but it was just to get that all-important reaction to the stress. Of course, we were naive initially and thought they were being genuine."

Reality cheque: the hammer falls on The Block

On Tuesday night, the producers and contestants of The Block get the ultimate reality check as the four Vaucluse apartments go to auction. It's the moment when reality TV — with its arbitrary rules, contrived obstacles and ratings-friendly drama — collides with the implacable logic of the market.

The accepted wisdom is that property buyers look for a versatile blank canvas they can furnish and manipulate to suit their needs, not quirky, overdesigned apartments full of Freedom furniture, strange ornaments and flat-screen TVs.

What's more, potential buyers have watched these apartments renovated at the furious pace of a room a week. They've seen corners cut to meet the deadlines on a tight budget.

They've seen the problems that vendors bend over backwards to hide highlighted in the interests of dramatic TV. And they've seen dubious design ideas adopted to impress the judges and win the weekly room prize.

Co-creator and producer David Barbour admits it's a "difficult balance" for the contestants juggling the needs of buyers with those of the competition but he doesn't think the finished apartments will turn anyone off.

"Most properties you buy, you walk into them fully furnished and then you just make up your mind whether your couch will go where the couch is etc, etc," he says. "So it's just like, 'When I buy this place, I get this stuff as well.' Now, in this wonderful modern age, it's pretty easy to sell stuff you decide you don't want — whack it on eBay. It's not a difficult process."

As for the quality of the renovations, he is adamant. "Any serious buyer knows that everything has to be certified in order for us to sell it," Barbour says.

"Decisions have been made about colours where people might go, 'Ah, maybe not,' but as far as plumbing, electrical, construction — all those things are done by professionals and they have to be certified for us to sell the property.

"So, although you get to see the warts and all along the way, you know that by the time it goes to sale, everything is tip-top."

In setting the reserve price for the units, the producers need to think about recouping the cost of the building while still providing an incentive for the contestants, who get to keep any money above the reserve. It's another tricky balancing act.

Barbour admits the auction will be terrifying but is happy to be at the mercy of the marketplace.

"Shows like Idol are based on internal judging and audience response," he says. "The actual proof of the pudding, which is how they sell in the marketplace, never factors into it, which is probably a relief to those shows.

"There's nowhere to hide for us and that's OK."
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The Block proves a bank-buster for Nine

Jonathan Chancellor PROPERTY EDITOR
November 24, 2010

The Block ... three out of four sold.

The Block ... three out of four sold. Photo: Edwina Pickles

THE erratic nature of Sydney's property market was evident when just three of the four units in the Channel Nine renovation series The Block sold under the auction hammer last night.

Only one of the Vaucluse units sold above their $1 million cost.

The most expensive apartment fetched $1.1 million. The cheapest was passed in at $865,000. Viewers will not know who has won the $100,000 prize until tonight, when the reserve prices for the units are revealed.

All four contestant couples are entitled to pocket any difference between their sale price and the reserve. Neisha and John were in the box seat to take the prize.

In early pre-auction marketing, potential buyers were advised the apartments would fetch more than $900,000. But the price estimate was adjusted to about $900,000 for some units when spring property market conditions tightened and auction clearance rates fell.

The invitation-only auction was held under tight security at Vaucluse House.

Channel Nine's New South Head Road block was bought for $3.4 million with vendor finance this year, with $160,000 in stamp duty. It underwent a quick update before the contestants had 52 days and $80,000 to renovate their apartments.

There were weekly prizes which increased the renovation outlay on the apartments.

John and Neisha in apartment one spent $95,000. Mark and Duncan, the two tradies in apartment two, spent $90,000. Erin and Jake spent $94,853 in apartment three, which has the block's highest strata fee. Cheryl and Brenton in apartment four spent $89,974. Another $100,000 was spent on improving common areas.

The Vaucluse unit market has not been strong.

The suburb has achieved an $800,000 average price for a three-bedroom unit so far this year, according to Australian Property Monitors, compared with $888,000 in 2009.

The suburb's most expensive unit sale this year was $1,275,000 for an apartment which last sold for $1,390,000 in 2001.
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Alex Barton
24 Nov 2010, 07:58 AM

The spruikers will see this news as positive as always. They will say but that was a 75% clearance rate! They will have a heap of excuses but the fact is that the units didn't fetch what they cost and all but one lost money.

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MSM spruiks this a 300K profit but did they consider other costs like stamp duty, agents fees, labour (how long did it take them)???

Real profit probably closer to zero and the other three fools are underwater big time! :flasher:


The Block winners pocket $305,000

Cashed up The Block winners reveal baby plans
Christine Kellett
November 25, 2010 - 1:39PM

New South Wales couple John and Neisha Pitt have pocketed a $305,000 profit after winning the third series of Channel Nine renovator show The Block overnight.

Their two-bedroom ground floor apartment in the Sydney suburb of Vaucluse sold under the hammer for $1,105,000 - $205,000 over the reserve.

It was the largest gain for any of the show's four couples, who were each given eight weeks and $80,000 to renovate an apartment in the run-down building.
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Ker-ching ... John and Neisha receive the news.

Ker-ching ... John and Neisha receive the news. Photo: Channel Nine

The properties were auctioned off on Tuesday night, but producers waited until last night's finale to reveal the winners, based on set reserve prices.

The Pitts were the only couple to break the $1 million mark.

Erin and Jake came in second after their apartment sold for $997,500 - $87,500 above the reserve.

Mark and Duncan made a $47,000 profit after selling for $907,0000, while Chez and Brendan walked away empty handed when their apartment failed to meet its $880,000 reserve and was passed in at $865,000.

The couples were allowed to keep the profits from the sales, while the Pitts were also given $100,000 as the show's champions.

The pair now plan to invest the money in another home and have hinted they may start a family.

"Words can’t describe the feeling. Our dream was to buy a house and now we really can," the couple said.

"The sky is the limit after finishing The Block so now we feel like we can take on anything, maybe even being parents."

The couple trumped series one winners Adam Thorn and Fiona Mills, who sold their Bondi unit for $751,000 in 2003, $151,000 above its reserve.

The following year, Jamie Nicholson and Andrew Rochford took out the title after their Manly apartment went under the hammer for $868,000, making them $78,000. Rochford used his profile from the show to launch a television career, hosting the lifestyle program What's Good For You and appearing as a regular panellist on The 7pm Project.

Channel Nine has announced a fourth series of the show, with applications now open for 2011.

The series has attracted an average audience of 1.2 million viewers across the country. Ratings for last night's finale episode will be revealed today.
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On Sydney's property chopping Block

Karen Maley

Published 12:41 PM, 30 Nov 2010

Viewers of the Channel Nine renovation series, The Block, recently got a first-hand experience of just how treacherous Sydney’s property market can be.

In the series finale, only one of the four renovated units – located in the suburb of Vaucluse in Sydney’s eastern suburbs – managed to achieve an auction price above the $1 million it cost to purchase and renovate the unit. The cheapest unit was passed at a mere $865,000.

Still, if Reserve Bank boss, Glenn Stevens had been watching, he probably would have been very encouraged by the auction results. The country’s central bank is determined to keep inflationary pressures under control as the country goes through a once-in-a century mining boom. Since October last year, the Reserve Bank has raised the official cash rate from 3 per cent to 4.75 per cent.

The increase in official interest rates is already being felt in the housing market. The property market has tightened and clearance rates at auctions around the country are slipping. And, as some of the contestants on The Block discovered, property prices are now coming under a bit of pressure.

But, home buyers and home owners aren’t the only ones to feel the effects of tighter monetary policy. Australia’s renters are also about to be hard hit.

Tim Toohey, Goldman Sachs chief economist points out that the interest rate rises we’ve seen so far have produced a decline in housing approvals. As a result, the supply of housing is about to get tighter.

At the same time, Toohey argues that the demand for rental housing is about to rise. Toohey – who predicts that the Reserve Bank will raise interest rates again in March, May and August next year – argues that housing affordability is about to come close to reaching all-time lows over the next 12 months. At that stage, he says, housing will become as unaffordable as it was in 1989, and in 2008.

As a result, he says, a lot of people will decide that they’d rather keep on renting, rather than taking out a large and expensive mortgage.

The trouble for renters is that there’s going to be more demand for rental accommodation at the same time as a decline in building approvals means that fewer homes and apartments are being built. As a result, rents are likely to come under pressure.

At present, rents are rising at a 4.3 per cent annual rate. Toohey estimates that increased pressure in the rental market will likely cause rents to start increasing at an annual rate of 7 to 8 per cent.

Toohey points out that about one-third of Australian households rent their houses. Many – although certainly not all – of these people are in lower income brackets.

Even though incomes in Australia are growing quite strongly at present, lower income renters are about to be hit with a sharp increase in their rental costs. At the same time, the cost of utilities, such as gas, electricity and water, are also rising very steeply. Lower income earners are about to find that their rental and utility costs consume a greater and greater portion of their weekly pay cheques.

What’s more, Toohey notes that higher rental costs are going to have an impact on the country’s inflation rate.

Rental costs are one of the largest single items in the basket of goods that are used to calculate the consumer price index, accounting for 5.6 per cent of the total basket.

So big rental increases will show up in the form of a higher CPI inflation rate, which will in turn increase pressure for future interest rate rises. And that will mean further bad news, for both home buyers and renters.
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Last unit in The Block sold

Jonathan Chancellor
December 1, 2010 - 12:05PM

Brenton Courts and Cheryl Gravina from The Block.

Brenton Courts and Cheryl Gravina from The Block. Photo: Edwina Pickles

The last apartment in The Block, Channel Nine's real-estate reality program, has been sold.

The top-floor unit, which was renovated by Melbourne couple Cheryl Gravina and Brenton Courts (Brenton and Chez) fetched $970,000 seven days after its auction.

Given it was above the reserve price of $880,000, the couple will keep the $90,000 difference.
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Chez and Brenton's unit in The Block.

Chez and Brenton's unit in The Block. Photo: Jon Reid

"The general public has been so supportive," Chez said.

"Complete strangers have been coming up to us offering words of reassurance.

"Now we can actually afford a wedding.

"It's been a great roller-coaster ride, which has all turned out for the best," she said.

It was sold to an eastern suburbs buyer through Mary Anne Cronin at Raine & Horne Bondi Beach.

The buyer saw it on the television series and at an open for inspection last Saturday, which attracted 30 plus groups.

Bidding fell $15,000 short of the auction reserve price with the finale's 1.7 million viewers engrossed at watching how the couple coped with the failure to secure success at auction.

The series winners Neisha and John secured $205,000 above reserve plus the $100,000 prize money.

Erin and Jake secured $87,500 above the reserve.

Mark and Duncan secured $47,000.
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The Block crumbling

Posted by Delusional Economics in Oz Housing Bubble on Jun 13th, 2011 | 25 comments

The television hasn’t been to kind to the housing market recently. Sure the constant re-runs of Location, Location, Location, Selling Homes Australia and Grand Designs have been streaming out of the box, but more recently David Koch has been on breakfast TV informing the masses that housing was not going at all well. This was made worse when he teamed up with SQM research for a second serving of housing doom.

Former RBA Governor Ian Macfarlane has often said that one the bubble symptoms he identified in 2003 was the proliferation of property related television programs. Those with Foxtel certainly would have noticed the slow migration of English real estate TV show hosts to Australian shores as the UK housing market took a nose dive.

This makes me wonder exactly what would happen to the psychology of the bubble in Australia if one of these TV shows turn out to be a complete flop on its concept. It turns out I may not have to wait that long to find out.

The production company behind Channel 9′s hit, The Block, may have bitten off more than it can chew after paying $3.6 million for a row of rundown terraces in Richmond.

As the property market cools, Watercress Productions might struggle to cover the cost of sales and renovations to the houses, which are in the shadow of the troubled Housing Ministry estate.

Watercress bought four Victorian and Edwardian terraces in a row after they passed in at auction in November for $2.85 million.

It also paid $198,000 stamp duty, taking the cost of each house to just under $950,000 before a porcelain tile or glass splashback had been put in place.

JPP Buyers Advocates’ Catherine Cashmore said Watercress would be “very, very lucky to break even” on the deal on sales price alone.

“They are starting high and it’s a very big ask,” Ms Cashmore said.

The irony that Channel 9 may have fallen for their own spruik is certainly not lost on me.
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The Block's Watercress Productions paid $3.6 million for terraces

By John Dagge
From: Sunday Herald Sun
June 12, 2011 12:00AM

Posted Image

The production company behind TV's The Block paid around $950,000 per house before the renovations began, leading some real estate experts to cast doubt on whether or not a profit can be made from the properties.
The Block

The production company behind the block may struggle to recoup the cost of a row of terraces to be renovated in the show as the property market cools

The Block terraces cost $950,000
Property market has slowed down
Terraces in shadow of housing estate

THE production company behind Channel 9's hit, The Block, may have bitten off more than it can chew after paying $3.6 million for a row of rundown terraces in Richmond.

As the property market cools, Watercress Productions might struggle to cover the cost of sales and renovations to the houses, which are in the shadow of the troubled Housing Ministry estate.

Watercress bought four Victorian and Edwardian terraces in a row after they passed in at auction in November for $2.85 million.

It also paid $198,000 stamp duty, taking the cost of each house to just under $950,000 before a porcelain tile or glass splashback had been put in place.

JPP Buyers Advocates' Catherine Cashmore said Watercress would be "very, very lucky to break even" on the deal on sales price alone.

"They are starting high and it's a very big ask," Ms Cashmore said.

Home loans, savings accounts and more

"The houses are situated across the street from the entrance to a supermarket carpark and under the shadow of Housing Ministry flats, which is a price-killer as far as real estate in Richmond goes."

The Block executive producer Julian Cress said the attention to detail paid to the properties made them stand-out buys and tipped high demand for them.

"The finishes, the fixtures, the fittings will make them the best product that is available at the time in Richmond by a long way," he said.
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The frantic reality of renovating for ratings

Joanne Brookfield

June 18, 2011

This year's season of The Block involves contestants vying for their prize money by renovating rundown properties in Richmond.

This year's season of The Block involves contestants vying for their prize money by renovating rundown properties in Richmond.

Go behind the scenes of the fourth season of reality TV's renovation show The Block.

It's a cacophony of construction noise: drilling, sanding, sawing, banging. Trees are hurried along hallways, which are lined with drop cloths and paint tins.

Some rooms are furnished, others look a long way from done. There's scaffolding and tarpaulins and tools. And there's tension in the air.

There are 60 tradesmen on site and, it seems, almost as many camera crew.

Somewhere in the organised chaos are the four contestant couples, who have less than 48 hours now to finalise full renovations on the four houses that are part of the latest season of reality TV renovation show The Block.

By the time season four goes to air on Monday night, the four free-standing houses - two Victorians and two Edwardians on Cameron Street in Richmond - will be completely finished.

''The contestants only get two months to make over the whole house,'' explains executive producer and co-creator of the series Julian Cress while on-site.

''So they have to, in eight weeks, make over three bedrooms, two bathrooms, hallway, living, dining, kitchen, backyard, front yard and facade, from scratch.''

Purchased at the end of November last year for ''about three and half mil'' from a family who owned all four, they were, Mr Cress says, ''in an astonishing state of disrepair; they were like slums''.

The competing couples have been given a budget of $100,000 each to transform the properties.

''There was no heritage overlay here so anybody could have just demolished them and put up a block of flats. We didn't want to do that. We were just really excited by the possibility of taking these four beautiful old homes and restoring them to their former glory and using them for the show. Because they were side by side, it was just the perfect opportunity,'' he says.

Three are single-fronted and one is double-fronted. ''To create an even playing field, we decided to put a second storey addition on the single-fronted houses so they'd all be three bedrooms, two bathrooms,'' Cress says.

The back of each house, which faces north, was demolished. Host Scott Cam and his building team created new framing and floors. The contestants have then had to build everything else themselves.

''They're not just renovating rooms, they're actually building houses this time,'' Cress says of the show that first premiered in 2003 and previously featured contestants renovating apartments.

The houses will be sold, fully furnished, at auction at the end of the season, with that final episode being filmed then.

So as not to spoil the on-air reveal, the auctions will not be held on the street but in private, with interested buyers having to register to attend.

The winner of the series is then determined by whose house sells for the highest price. They will win whatever the difference is above the reserve they set plus an additional $100,000. Last year's winners pocketed $305,000.

The Block screens every weeknight at 7pm on the Nine Network, from June 20.
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