Back to work advice for estate agents
How is the property market recovering?
A quick bounce-back was expected by many, given various pieces of research showing strong sentiment from buyers and sellers and a large amount of pent-up demand.
But some of the figures released since lockdown started to be eased and the property market returned to work have been staggering.
For example, on Wednesday May 27, just two weeks after the property industry resumed, Rightmove saw visits exceed six million in a day for the first time, up 18% on the comparable day of 2019.
The busiest ever day with regards to time spent on Rightmove was Saturday May 23, with over 47 million minutes spent collectively.
The site says home-mover momentum has been building since the housing market reopened in England, with ‘a new wave of buyers now entering the market’ since the easing of lockdown.
Over a quarter of buyers who had no plans to relocate earlier in the year are now planning to move, according to the findings.
While some monthly house price indices have held off on their usual reports, because of a lack of data, the latest findings suggest that prices have still been increasing despite the uncertainty caused by Covid-19. According to Zoopla, the average UK house price rose by 2.4% between April 2019 and April 2020, and by 1.9% across the portal’s top 20 cities.
Zoopla’s latest Cities Index Report recorded a surge in activity from buyers, sellers and those in the private rented sector in May.
In the week after the government’s housing market announcement, buyer demand grew by 88%. The spike in part represented how low the market had fallen, but Zoopla expects this trend to continue, albeit at a steadier pace over time.
According to the report, the north of England and a number of coastal towns saw a huge revival in demand. There was, however, a much smaller rebound in demand for London property.
All the signs would point to the market bouncing back strongly, with solid fundamentals remaining in place. However, considerable challenges remain – including for agents getting used to the ‘new normal’.
How can agents return to work safely?
Some of you will already have returned to the office, some of you may be in the process of doing so, and some may be thinking about how you can do it safely in the months ahead.
When returning, the main objective of all agencies should be to ensure the health and safety of staff and the general public.
As well as the government's guidelines, agents should try and limit unnecessary contact and travel. This means encouraging staff to walk, cycle or drive to work and making sure staff don't share cars with clients.
Limiting contact can also be achieved by encouraging staff who can work effectively from home to continue doing so and making sure that only absolutely necessary in-person client interactions take place.
During lockdown, many agents and consumers carried out many parts of the moving process virtually and the government is suggesting that this should continue. This means offering virtual viewings and valuations as a first option, with the aim of narrowing down the most serious customers.
There is strict government guidance on in-person viewings which should be followed at all costs. No open house viewings are allowed, visits must be made by appointment only, all internal doors should be opened where possible and owners should vacate for the duration of the viewing.
Everyone should wash their hands before and after the viewing, everything should be thoroughly cleaned, and many agents will be encouraging the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during interactions with clients.
For agents wishing to open branches, strict social distancing measures must be in place, including ensuring all visits are on an appointment-only basis and ensuring staff can socially distance in the workplace.
Employers can also encourage staggered work times, working in shifts, making sure desks are two metres apart, only allowing a certain number of people in the office at one time and putting down markers to everyone keeps apart as much as possible.
Another safety measure you can take is handling all documents electronically. As with paper documents, you should ensure that all electronic documents are recorded and backed up, while adhering to GDPR rules.
With guidance that in-person viewings should only take place with the most serious prospective movers, qualifying applicants will be even more important in the coming months. This is where virtual viewings come in handy, maximising safety and potentially saving you valuable time.
Agents must also remember that there are certain groups who shouldn't be moving home. Anyone self-isolating with symptoms of coronavirus shouldn’t be having any contact with others and you should work with them to amicably arrange a date in the future when all parties are well.
As well as the physical wellbeing of your staff, it's also important to consider their mental health. Communicating with your team to make sure they are coping during an unsettling time is essential and you should also have appropriate measures in place for any staff returning from furlough.
Communication has been a key theme of the coronavirus crisis. Consumers will remember the brands that kept them updated during lockdown. Now is the time to build on that, providing regular updates, explaining how you will be operating safely and continuing to have open conversations.
Since the property market reopened on May 13, the signs so far are very positive. Lots of pent-up demand has been released and it’s expected that thousands of transactions which were in the pipeline before lockdown will now go through.
Agents should take advantage of this surge in activity by boosting marketing campaigns, including targeted email sends, Facebook ads, blogs and phone calls and emails to check in with prospects.
A key part of your role over the next few months is rebuilding consumer confidence in the property market. While being honest and transparent, it’s also crucial for you to share positive news and be on hand to discuss clients’ concerns about the 'new normal' and how this affects transactions.
Finally, as lockdown measures continue to be eased, it's a time to think about what we’ve learned during this unprecedented period and how any positives could be put into practice moving forward.
Whether some of your team are more effective working from home, or virtual viewings have been a huge success, now is the time to embrace change. Identifying new-found efficiencies can help agencies to become leaner as we move into a post Covid-19 world.