Boris Johnson’s announcement last night dashed industry hopes that the property sector could partially emerge from the lockdown, but more details of the PM’s announcement are due to be published at 2pm.
Although some workers will be allowed to return to work if they are NOT able to do their jobs at home, at the moment this does not specifically include estate agents as current government guidance stands.
Leading figures in the industry have told The Negotiator that, although there may be some scope for viewings of new build and probate properties to be allowed before June 1st given the Prime Minister’s comments tonight, the restrictions remain in place for the meantime.
“We said that you should work from home if you can, and only go to work if you must,” Johnson said.
“We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.”
But overnight Johnson’s vague statements on ‘returning to work’ have been questioned by a leading lawyer. “Many workers, presumably on furlough if they haven’t been able to work for the last couple of months, will still be concerned about the health risks of attending at work without there being very clear provisions in terms of what protective measures are being taken in the workplace,” says Rustom Tata, Chairman and Partner at city law firm DMH Stallard.
“For others, the journey to and from work will present a logistical challenge. And that’s before the health risks of travelling on public transport.
“What if the employee fails to attend? In most cases, if the employee doesn’t attend work, the employer could notionally seek to dismiss the employee. However, in practice that is unlikely to happen.”
Some agents were hoping that instead of last night’s announcement, Johnson would relax lockdown restrictions on specific business sectors including property sales and lettings.
Discussions with industry leaders and housing minister Chris Pincher late last week revealed that the government has decided to include the property sector with retail which means, as Johnson said tonight, a likely restart date of 1st June, at the earliest. This was also predicted last week by NAEA Property Chief Executive Mark Hayward.
“This is not the green light everyone was hoping for”, says Keller Williams market centre co-owner Russell Quirk. “It’s more like an amber light signalling things may change soon but not now – I’m afraid agents are going to have to be patient.
“I think Boris has had a change of heart on several fronts, including allowing the property sector to open before other high street businesses.”
Paul Offley (left), Head of Compliance at The Guild of Property Professionals, says agents need more clarity from the government before anything can deviate from the current lockdown rules, and that the Prime Minister’s promise to answer questions next week in parliament should provide some answers.
“Unless we have a clear code given to us then agents will just go off and interpret more general rules in different ways and that wouldn’t be ideal,” says industry consultant Andrew Stanton.
A poll by PR firm Properganda among over 600 estate agents late last week showed that two thirds would prefer that the lockdown continues until June, rather than risk lives.