It has now been less than a week since the Coronavirus pandemic made its presence known in the UK in earnest, and estate agents are only just getting to grips with what it might mean for their businesses.
A variety of coping strategies are emerging including temporary branch closures, home working, virtual viewings and asking staff to take unpaid leave – all unprecedented in most people’s living memory.
What does the next few weeks hold in store for the industry, and is the property market really coming to a stop?
Richard Harrison, Benton Estate Agency, Melton Mowbray
“This week the tap appears to have been turned off for new valuation appraisal appointments.
“Which is a great shame as there is still a strong amount of demand from buyers.
“We anticipate that activity levels will continue to quieten over the next few weeks depending on what happens, and we hope for a sharp recovery towards the summer. But all is so unknown now. The property market is so strongly affected by public confidence.
Phillip Jackson, Maguire Jackson, Birmingham
“Our viewing and enquiry levels have significantly reduced, and we have in some instances had people refuse to let us conduct viewings on their property for fear of infection.
“Inventory and check-out clerks are already asking for up to 72 hours to inspect apartments, after the tenants have left, to reduce their own risk.”
Ben Dreher, Lawson Property in Plymouth
“Despite all that is going on we are having a good month; we have had two sales this morning and have four new listings coming to the market in the next 48 Hours.
“The issues we have are that people are concerned about the impact of a Coronavirus quarantine situation and will this hold up their sale or purchase, and how will we operate as a business if our staff become infected.”
James Greenwood of Stacks Property Search
“None of us know how this crisis is going to play out, but as buying agents our job is to continue to look after our clients, and others that we deal with, in a safe and responsible manner.
“To this end, we have effected a protocol that has been rolled out across our seventeen offices.
“Our business is a human business, but it’s not a mass activity, and involves a handful of people at most at any one time in, usually, a private place. Our protocol is designed to reduce risk to an absolute minimum.”
Rob Houghton, CEO of reallymoving
“The current situation is unprecedented but we know from past events such as the global financial crisis in 2008 that when people were worried about their jobs and their pensions, they tend to withdraw from making big financial decisions and avoid taking on new debt.
It’s too early to say the extent to which the property market will be affected, and the Bank of England’s emergency 0.5% interest rate cut should help mitigate the impact, but consumer confidence is fragile and I expect we will see a proportion of deals collapsing and a short-term drop in prices by late spring or early summer.”
William Reeve, CEO, Goodlord
“We expect the sales market to slow right down for a few months until people once again feel comfortable opening their house up and are confident in the market.
“However, we believe there will be a slightly less dramatic impact on the lettings market as people are still required to move due to expiring contracts.
“We believe that many of the in-person encounters can be replaced with technology or become virtual, should this social isolation last for a long time.”