Multiple brothels come up for sale during Covid pandemic amid ‘pivot’ in sex industry

A Woolloomooloo brothel was up for sale for close to $5m.

They once attracted a steady stream of men eager to trade money for sex but now the doors are closed, the girls are staying home and the owners of the sites want out.

A range of licensed brothels across NSW have come up for sale in the Covid period – some after the red lights were turned off for good – and many will be repurposed for other uses.

It’s meant real estate buyers have the opportunity to purchase some unusual properties, including business premises with up to 11 bathrooms, ample laundry facilities and discreet entrances. There’s also an abundance of hot tubs, blacked-out windows, purple decor and, in some cases, dancing poles.

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Many of these properties are in industrial areas but they also include inner-city terraces with multimillion-dollar price expectations.

The listings come as lockdown restrictions deal a heavy blow to the sex industry, with brothels unable to trade. Brothels were also unlikely to resume business after the first easing of restrictions – currently set for mid-October – and many premises could stay shut well into 2022.

But some observers said the industry had ceased to be the cash cow it once was, even before Covid struck last year.

A brothel set in a warehouse for sale on Guernsey Rd in Guildford.

There had been a shift away from on-site services to online escorting agencies and this was leading to a gradual decline in traffic to brothels.

Illegal adult massage parlours were an added challenge for the industry as they could often undercut licensed businesses.

Ray White chief economist Nerida Conisbee said gentrification of some suburbs with a high concentration of light industry meant some of the locations for established brothels were no longer as discreet as they once were.

“Industrial precincts, especially within inner-urban areas, are going through substantial change,” she said. “In some areas, like Brookvale (on the northern beaches), you have cafes, breweries and residential moving in and the property values are going up. That urban shift would affect brothels.”

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An Artarmon brothel, the largest on the north shore, recently sold for $4.1m.

A sex worker in bedroom of The Boardroom brothel in Artarmon, Sydney.

A sex worker at the Artarmon brothel when it was known as The Boardroom.

Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association, chief executive Jules Kim said many sex workers “pivoted” to online and non-contact services during Covid.

“Sex workers have been very proactive in responding to Covid and the changing restrictions including lockdown,” Ms Kim said.

Sex Workers Outreach Project NSW acting chief executive Tori Powell said some brothels were ­closing for good.

“One of the devastating impacts of Covid has been the closure, sometimes permanent, of sex workers’ workplaces, particularly for brothel workers,” Ms Powell said.

This South Granville property once used as a for-profit swingers club and licensed brothel recently sold for $1.375m.

One of the latest licensed premises to be listed for sale is a 405sqm warehouse in the Western Sydney suburb of Guildford, currently home to a brothel known as Guildford 10. The tenant was reported as no longer paying the $6000 a month rent.

Selling agent Joe Bechara of LJ Hooker-Granville said it was difficult to price the licensed venue since there were no comparable properties in the area. Similarly-sized warehouses in the suburb sold for $1.1m-$1.15m.

Some of the interested buyers wanted to continue using the site as a brothel but others were considering repurposing the property, Mr Bechara said.

In West Gosford, on the Central Coast, a property used as a licensed brothel has been listed as “an ideal strata subdivision opportunity”. The guide is $2.65m.

This West Gosford premises is currently a brothel. It is for sale at $2.65m.

In the inner city, a historic terrace in Woolloomooloo used for a brothel known as Five Star City, remains for sale two years after it was first listed. The initial guide was $5m.

And in Granville, a stripped out industrial site, once used as a swingers’ club that hosted group sex parties for profit, recently sold for $1.37m.

The north shore’s biggest brothel building, in a light industrial precinct of Artarmon, sold in December as a vacant possession for $4.1m.