Estate agency owner Steve Wayne has endured a tough few days, as many thousands of other agents across the UK have since the Coronavirus pandemic struck.
But despite having to mothball his business and furlough his 17 staff, Wayne is surprisingly positive given the extraordinary position he now finds himself in.
“I’m working from home running my business pretty much single handed, most of which involves taking calls for our block management part of the business as the sales have disappeared,” he says. “It’s quite a nice thing to do – I’m understanding my business again and I’ve already learned eight or nine things we can do better once we’re up and running again.
“It’s horrendous what’s going on but you’ve got to look at the positives – and for me that includes a once in a lifetime opportunity to step back and look at my business and really plan where we’re going over the next six months after Coronavirus.”
Wayne says he took the decision over the weekend to close and furlough the staff because, he believes, a business like his has social responsibilities.
It’s also why he’s been refusing requests for viewings, patiently explaining to callers who ask why they can’t view an apartment if they’ve been watching the news.
“The phone has been off the hook this week – it’s crazy how many people still want to do viewings for rented properties.
But although he’s refusing viewings, Wayne says some agents in his area aren’t taking Coronavirus seriously. “There’s a split in agents now; those who are good, conscientious ones and the old-school ones who just care about money. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re the ones still doing viewings.”
Wayne says his firm decided to furlough its staff because he couldn’t see how they could turn around to some and say ‘we’re paying you, but not you’.
“We discussed it as a business and everyone was happy to take 20% less and be furloughed – but I think the way Spicerhaart handled the same process was absolutely disgraceful,” he says.
“The only thing I can think of is that they didn’t know what was coming and they jumped. Our staff told me they were grateful because we held our nerve and waited for the government announcement.”