What buyers and sellers need to know

The news that restrictions on Estate Agents and viewing houses were going to be lifted came as a surprise to most people – not least to the industry professionals themselves. 
Many assumed their businesses would be opening in one of the later phases so some are scrambling in order to restaff and get back up to speed with their inventories and to arrange viewings in the most unusual circumstances they’ve ever been held in – if they’re going to be doing any physical viewing at all. 
Some potential buyers and sellers may be keen to get their properties marketed but would be less keen if that involves strangers coming into their homes, regardless of PPE and social distancing, while their own parents, relatives and friends can’t. 
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP said: “This is the most radical restarting of an industry in the first phase of our national recovery road map. 
“This was not an easy decision to make. With few, if any, transactions there’s no visibility and no precedent with which to accurately judge the state of the housing market. 
“But I do know that in every economic recovery in modern British history, the housing market has been key.”
It’s not just estate agents that are now free to operate – conveyancers and removal staff are also allowed to restart their businesses.
Other measures announced included:-

  • Allowing construction sites to reopen with more flexible working hours than usually permitted  to allow them to stagger start and leave times to ease congestion and demand on local public transport.
  • Letting local councils and developers publicise planning applications online and through social media rather than the usual mandatory posters and leaflets
  • Support for smaller developers by allowing them to defer payments to local councils 

Online property tracker Zoopla have estimated that just over 373,000 sales have been held in “suspended animation” due to the lockdown – worth approx. £82 billion. 
Alasdir Dunne, Head of residential sales with the Fisher German agency which has 13 branches in England, the only country where the restrictions have been lifted to date, said that the vast majority of staff were on furlough so had to be brought back into the business as soon as possible to meet whatever demand there would be. 
“So far, each of our branches has received about 30 inquiries for viewings which is down between 70% and 80% on our normal traffic”.
In terms of personal safety, some agencies are giving their agents PPE to attend viewings, will practice social distancing and are advising sellers to be absent from the property if at all possible. 
Others will insist that all doors and windows remain open during viewings to provide increased ventilation and will wipe down all surfaces people come into contact with including door handles and light switches. 
Others will not be supplying staff to accompany viewers but will be “providing our vendors with everything they need to do it themselves – we’ll be advising them to open doors and put lights on in advance and, where possible, to remain outside” one director said. 
Still others are creating their own mandatory health status screening questionnaires. They will ask customers to complete a health declaration and reserve the right to refuse viewings or appraisals if customers are not able to satisfy their criteria.  
Most importantly, economically some are restricting their services only to customers who can prove that they have sufficient funding to proceed with a purchase. 

Is this the right solution?

Not every agency is happy with the advice and some will remain closed pending further developments. 
Marc von Grundherr, director of luxury London realtors Benham and Reeves said: “At a time when a steady hand is needed on the tiller, this latest development is quite frankly ridiculous and will do nothing but sow further seeds of confusion in a market that is already on its knees due to uncertainty.”
David Cox, Chief Executive of ARLA, the representative body for letting agents, amplifies his members concerns: “We know there’s a huge pent up demand and the industry wants to go back to work but we don’t know the answer to these questions at the moment.”
He used an example of a letting agent who might undertake accompanied viewings and could see four or five different people at different properties during a day. 
“People forget that you can have the virus for several days without presenting symptoms and that’s the danger. You could be passing it to dozens of people so it’s not a good idea.”
Many professions and businesses are used to their employees putting themselves in risky situations and danger as a part of the job. Estate agents and removals professionals aren’t usually in that category but these are strange days. 
No matter how many papers and risk assessments can be created ultimately everything – in business and in life – comes down to the judgement of an individual. 
That includes whether a business can survive the current stress on the system. Some lenders might decide that your company remains a good bet to repay debts and give financial leeway – others might not. 
One piece of good judgement that you could exercise risk-free right now is to make an appointment with us.
Whether it’s by email, website, online chat or a good old fashioned phone call, one of our team of expert advisors will be in touch quickly to arrange a convenient, free, virtual initial consultation to discuss what risks your business is facing right now. 
Talking to a professional always helps – and once we understand the precise circumstances surrounding your company, we’ll be able to offer practical, targeted advice personally tailored to you.
Of course you could keep hoping something will turn up instead but that seems like the riskiest option of all.