Now that lockdown has been eased, at least in England, it’s possible for estate and letting agents to open up for business again. The Government has said that all buyers and renters will now be able to complete purchases and view properties in person, while estate agents, conveyancers and removals firms can return to work while following social distancing guidelines.
Estate and letting agents don’t have to open of course. But now that the property market has been unfrozen there’s likely to be significant pent up demand from people wanting or needing to buy and sell houses and let and rent homes. It’s estimated that around 450,000 buyers and renters have been unable to progress their moves since March.
Of course, the property market can’t just carry on as before and changes will need to be made to the way estate and letting agents work. Here are eight things agents can do to prepare and hopefully succeed in the new normal:
1. Reorganise the office. Think safety first. Ensure that social distancing is not only possible but easy for your staff and visitors to do. Basic measures might involve something like moving the furniture, reducing the number of desks and chairs and providing screens. Don’t forget back office areas too. For those situations where people need to visit the office it’s best to set up an appointment system so you can control numbers, and not to allow walk ins.
The Government, in consultation with industry, has produced guidance to help ensure workplaces are as safe as possible. Find their guidance here.
2. Consult with your staff and colleagues. Keeping your staff onboard is one of the best ways to adapt to an unfamiliar new situation. Ask what they are comfortable with doing and what they are concerned about doing. Look at how you can address these concerns with new ways of doing things.
3. Keep working remotely where you can. Although it’s now possible to do business in person it’s still advisable to work remotely wherever you can. The added advantage of this is that some staff will still be able to work at home and so not have to commute or come into the office.
Remote working methods include using remote working technology, offering virtual property tours and using live video for viewings. Here’s an article with some good ideas on Working Remotely: How To Win Instructions, Sell Or Let Property Using Remote Working Methods.
4. Have a viewing protocol. There will be some cases where physical viewing of a property for sale or to let can’t be avoided. For when this is necessary, you should create a viewing protocol that staff, vendors, landlords, and potential buyers and tenants should follow.
Issues to cover with your viewing protocol include: Not conducting visits where anyone has Covid-19, symptoms of it or is vulnerable or shielding. Minimising the number of people present at every viewing. Not conducting open house type viewings. Ensuring there is a cleaning and sanitising regime in place for before and after the viewing.
The official Government advice for people moving during the Covid-19 outbreak, which includes guidance for estate and letting agents on suitable ways to carry on business, can be found here.
5. Give priority to unsticking ‘stuck’ transactions. Utilise your CRM system to identify any sales or lettings which had been agreed and which were in progress prior to the market freeze. Find out their current status and give priority to helping progress these again where appropriate. Bear in mind that some house buyers still need or want to move home, while some tenants still need to move out or find a new place to live for various reasons. Helping unstick these essential transactions first is a good way to get your agency back on track.
6. Focus on empty properties. When it comes to getting things moving again after the freeze it is sensible to focus on marketing empty properties before occupied ones if possible. Empty properties will be much easier to conduct viewings on. Other issues like surveys, inventories, inspections and maintenance will run more smoothly than with an occupied property. It’s likely that vendors and landlords will be keen to get these sold or let after the market freeze too.
In the case of properties to let delaying reletting until the previous tenant has moved out could actually make it quicker to relet, not slower.
7. Get your marketing moving again. With so many other businesses still closed many people might not realise that your agency has reopened. Some new marketing is probably a must. Restart your press advertising, add new content to your blog, and recommence your social media marketing. Rather than just carrying on as before address the new normal. For example, point out the protocols you have in place to make selling and letting property as safe as possible.
Working your existing contacts list is a simple way to get your marketing moving. Use your CRM system to identify valuations, appraisals for letting and enquiries from prospective buyers and tenants that came in before or during the lockdown. Contact those people to find out what their plans are now and suggest how you can help them.
8. Look at new markets you could get involved in. The estate and letting agency market is bound to be changed by Covid-19. It’s likely that some types of sales and lettings will struggle while others will continue or even thrive. For example, the buy to let/investor market, student property market, professional lets market and prime property markets will all be affected differently.
Now is a very good time to look at what sales and letting markets you are involved in, how they might be affected, and at what new markets you could get involved in into the future. Of course, no one knows for sure what Covid-19 will mean for the property market longer term but you can only benefit by being prepared.