Every business will currently be considering the impact the Coronavirus will have on their operations, and estate and letting agents are no different. After years of uncertainty and challenges, there was optimism that 2020 would provide more stability for the housing market, but given the current circumstances, property market professionals are reconsidering what the rest of the year will bring.
It is vital people and businesses follow guidelines issued by the Government and trusted bodies. The UK Government has issued guidelines for the property market. Therefore, estate agents, and clients, should visit the website and ensure they are fully informed.
Some of the key points stated in the guidance are as follows:
Advice to the general public:
- Home buyers and renters should, where possible, delay moving to a new house while measures are in place to fight coronavirus (COVID-19)
- When contracts have been changed and the property is occupied, all parties should work together to agree a delay or another way to resolve this matter
- If moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons or parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay, people must follow advice on staying away from others to minimise the spread of the virus
- In line with government’s advice, anyone with symptoms, self-isolating or shielding from the virus, should follow medical advice which will mean not moving house for the time being, if at all possible. All parties should prioritise agreeing amicable arrangements to change move dates for individuals in this group, or where someone in a chain is in this group
The Government has also issued key points of guidance to the industry, and estate agents should note the following points:
- Agents should work with their clients and other agents to broker a new date to move where sales are due to complete on occupied properties in the current period where emergency measures are in place to fight coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Agents should prioritise support for anyone with symptoms, self-isolating or shielding from the virus, and those they are in chain with, to agree a new date
- In line with advice for certain businesses to close, agents should not open branches to the public during this period, or visit people’s homes to carry out market appraisals
- Agents should ensure that employees can work from home, to support existing clients and advise potential new clients
- Agents should continue to progress sales where this can be done whilst following guidance to stay at home and away from others
- Agents should advise clients to be patient and not to exchange contracts unless the contracts have explicit terms to manage the timing risks presented by the virus
Agents are advised viewings should not take place at this time, but virtual viewings are acceptable.
The website also contains information for conveyancers, solicitors and removal companies, which can be reviewed.
Where does this guidance leave the industry?
With advice changing and updating every day, there is new advice and remarks being made daily.
Savills released a statement, saying; “It is difficult accurately to predict the full impact of this issue on our business for 2020 as a whole. However, given the nature of the real estate market, we would anticipate that any near-term slowdown caused by sentiment and specific measures taken to combat COVID-19 would generally result in a temporary delay in activity rather than an absolute loss of business.”
The optimism in the property market in December 2019 and January 2020 has been attributed to many things, but the pent-up level of demand for homes has been commonly cited. After years of political uncertainty and delays on Brexit, the General Election results played a role in buyers deciding this was the right time for them to buy a house.
This should be considered, alongside the thoughts of Savills. For now, the property industry should consider the impact of COVID-19 as causing a temporary delay in activity, as opposed to demand for homes being lost entirely.
It is not our place to discuss the health implications or how people and businesses should manage their operations during this trying time. However, our experience in working with estate and letting agents means we know the working practices of many of these companies, and how it is likely to affect them.
Online connectivity will become even more important
There will be a sharp rise in people working from home. It may be your agency has asked for workers to do as much work from their home, as they can. This may already be part of your working practice, and it is noted many agents work extremely long hours. If you are the sort of agent who is always on hand for emails and phone calls, you may work from home as part of your everyday routine.
This is likely to continue, and for many parts of the agents working practices, there will be little difference.
However, with more of the population working from home, it is likely the correspondence an agent deals with will be undertaken online. It is sensible to minimise personal meetings or meeting in public whenever possible. The clients that do wish to contact you will now likely choose to phone, email you or contact you on social media.
As a company, you must ensure you offer a range of contact methods, and these must be operational and checked. Make sure to check all communication channels are working, and check on a regular basis to see if messages are coming in.
If you have social media accounts, make sure you are active, and that you check your inboxes for messages or information.
Your online presence is vital right now
All agents need to have an online presence, but in the current climate, this is going to be more important than ever. With more people staying at home, it is inevitable that people will be online, and there will be people looking at homes.
A comparison can be made with the spike in people viewing property listings and visiting property portals in the week between Christmas and New Year. For many people, that week is an opportunity to relax, unwind, stay indoors, and this creates time to look for houses. The current situation is nowhere near as relaxed or as idyllic as the festive break, but the outcome is likely to be the same.
It is likely that buyer intent with reduce in the immediate future, but potential buyers are still going to search, and agents must ensure they connect with these potential buyers. By continuing to operate, and enhancing your online presence, you improve your chances of being the agent these buyers turn to when the time comes for people to buy homes again.
Take the time to explain what you are doing at this time, encourage people to ask questions, and maintain your presence. Right now, people are looking for as much guidance as possible. Your audience isn’t going to turn to you for advice on Coronavirus itself, but they will appreciate updates and any information you can share regarding your industry and business, and their local area.
How can you enhance your current presence?
We are highly experienced in helping agents develop their online presence. If you are looking for ways you can enhance your property listings, website and social account, we can help.
Some tips to enhance the online promotion of properties at this time include:
- Make sure property listings are written to as high a standard as you can, including keywords about what the feature has to offer
- Record the property listing as an audio file and use this to soundtrack videos or use as a standalone audio file
- Rotate the images regularly to ensure you catch people’s attention
- Create video slideshows using the images you already have
- Create and share live videos of you and your team hard at work
- Provide market updates and offer information about the local area
Letting agents must consider health implications
In addition to the marketing challenges facing all agents, there is a health and safety aspect letting agents must consider.
David Cox is the Chief Executive of the Association of Residential Letting Agents, and he released a statement on the ARLA website, saying; “If a tenant were to have the virus or be in a period of self-isolation, what happens if something goes wrong in the property (for example the boiler stops working). The landlord or agent or contractor will not go in to avoid contracting the disease and spreading the pandemic.”
He continued by saying; “However, that means there is a tenant with no hot water or heating for two weeks or longer if the government extends the period of self-isolation. This puts the landlord or agent in breach of Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, any selective or additional or mandatory licensing conditions [as well as] the Homes Act 2019, Housing Health and Safety Rating System under Housing Act 2004.”
This example is just one of the concerns landlords and agents have about the impact Coronavirus has on their operations. Until there is clear guidance to follow, it is best for all professionals to follow common sense guidelines.
It is vital there is communication between landlords, agents and tenants. Enquiries regarding the health and condition of the tenant should be made. It would be advisable for all agents to ensure landlords and tenants are following NHS guidelines: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/
The NHS provides the following tips on preventing the spread of the virus:
- Wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
- Always wash your hands when you get home or into work
- Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
- Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards
- Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
Agents should advise on the importance of using soap and water, and of disposing of used tissues correctly. This should form part of the communication with tenants, and in some cases, there would be no harm in providing bins and soap to tenants. This wouldn’t be part of the standard working practices of an agent or landlord, but these are unusual times.
If by providing tenants with additional materials prevents the spread of the infection, and makes the tenant feel respected, there will be short and long-term benefits for landlords and their agents.
At Agent Media, we know this is yet another challenging time for estate and letting agents to endure. Our work is aimed at helping agents connect with clients, and to ensure you present yourself as the natural choice in your local area. We know this is more important than ever, and if you would like to learn how we can assist you to remain a dependable and reliable presence during this time, please contact us today.
Social media and quality content is arguably more important than ever due to the current situation, with this in mind we are happy to provide you with a 30 day free social media trial and one free blog with certainly no obligation to proceed thereafter! Click here to get your free trial.
Thanks for reading.
Ian Charles Watson
Agent Media Group