A senior civil servant has confirmed that ‘in his view’ estate agencies are not included within the government’s list of ‘essential services’ and that all companies operating within the sector should close their offices immediately.
Although many estate agencies had already closed their branches and told staff to work from home earlier this week, they had hoped they could continue managing their lettings portfolios and keep some sales ticking over.
But the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) told Propertymark that the lock-down includes stopping all in-person viewings, routine inspections as well as house moves. MHCLG says it is still looking into whether property maintenance tasks such as gas safety checks will be allowed.
The update follows a statement from the British Association of Removers (BAR), which has said this morning that members should only complete house moves that are underway and that any move that has not yet started, should not go ahead.
Until the lockdown announcement last night, property viewings for rental properties had been continuing – the I news website reported that one London agency had been conducting multiple viewings at one property, recommending only that staff wear face masks and wash their hands thoroughly.
One agent, Murray Lee, says he views his work as essential because he’s looking after elderly tenants as well as others with homes featuring electrical problems and water leaks.
“My office is locked and has a sign up on the door that say customers can only come in if it’s an emergency – I’ve got a skeleton staff of two including me,” he says.
Lee says he has tenants moving in later this week who paid their deposit and first month’s rent before the Coronavirus crisis took hold, and need to move into their new home.
“I guess we’re going to have to pass the keys over to them through our branch front door and do it that way,” says Lee.
The Negotiator approached Propertymark for clarification on one other key issue – whether business owners and principals will be allowed into their branches for business continuity reasons.
A spokesperson said: “We expect to get more guidance on both sales and lettings today. It would be inappropriate to advise agents to do anything that contravenes Government guidance.”