Boris Johnson’s generic ‘return to work’ messaging and a lack of government guidance for estate agents has prompted some companies to staff their branches.
Conflicting messages in the national media, and a dearth of precise information have led agents to conclude that staff who cannot work from home such as property management teams, can return to branches.
The Negotiator spotted one independent estate agency, Snellers in Hampton Hill in the London Borough of Richmond, apparently open for business with five staff sat in their office chairs beavering away.
The estate agents say: “Unfortunately our branches remain closed to the public but we do have some staff working from offices where the demand requires us to do so. Where we have staff in offices we are working in a safe environment following government guidelines for social distancing and taking all necessary precautions protecting the staff and ensuring we are working in a clean and safe environment.
“We have many customers, landlords and tenants that still require our services and there have been a number of clients that have needed our assistance over these difficult weeks.”
“Until we are advised otherwise our offices will remain closed to the public and this is clearly detailed on a poster on the front door.”
Yesterday Boris Johnson’s ‘back to work’ plan revealed that house cleaners may work again, leading to property-industry wide incredulity that advice on estate agents hadn’t been released as well.
“In other words, it’s OK for people who are not part of your family household to come to your home fore several hours and to wander around it, albeit while observing social distancing guidance – so why can’t an estate agent do the same and visit for an appraisal or to take pictures?”, says Keller Williams franchise holder Russell Quirk (left).
“The latest Coronavirus guidance is full of holes and agents appear to be interpreting them to mean that it’s ok to have staff in branches but that valuations and viewings are still off limits, unless you take the ‘house cleaning’ approach.”
Marc von Grundherr, boss of Benham & Reeves, says: “At a time when a steady hand is needed on the tiller, this latest development is quite frankly ridiculous and will do nothing but sow further seeds of confusion in a market that is already on its knees due to uncertainty.
“Estate agents are the cogs that keep the market moving and to persist in tieing their hands while expecting other aspects of the market to operate around them is preposterous.”
“We’re waiting to hear back from officials about their plans for guidance for the sector or at the very least updating the guidance that was issued a few weeks ago,” says David Cox, Chief Executive of ARLA (left).
“I have had many emails from agents asking if the generic advice issued so far allows them to open branches or do viewings, inventories, appraisals or photography – but the detailed advice just isn’t there yet from government despite repeated requests from us for clarification.
“I know there is huge pent up demand and the industry wants to go back to work, but we don’t know the answer to these questions at the moment.”
But Cox is clear that agents who undertake accompanied viewings are taking huge risks – pointing out that a negotiator could see four of five different people at different properties in just a day, a clear chance for the virus to spread.
“People forget that you can have the virus for several days without presenting symptoms and that’s the danger,” he says. “You could be passing it to dozens of people so it’s not a good idea.”
But Cox says that unaccompanied viewings of empty properties where keys are left next to a doorway while the agent waits in the car could be acceptable now, but that a virtual viewing would be a better idea.
“I sympathise with people who say we need to get back to work and get the economy going again, but look at Italy and Germany where an early release led to cases spiking once more.”