Reopening The Housing Market – Industry Guidance And Professional Experience

Pan-industry guidance has been released to professionals in the property industry to provide them with information “to enable them to complete moves while maintaining safety as social distancing measures are eased”.

Developed collaboratively from organisations and professionals across the industry the guidance focuses on physical contact points in the home moving process.

General recommendations put forward are aimed at individuals so that they may change their behaviour so as to reduce the risks of catching the virus, such as limiting contact with people, avoiding public transport and washing hands regularly. These recommendations are then followed by ones specific to the profession, such as avoiding physical contact where possible by using digital technology.

When it comes to viewing properties, customers should be encouraged to use digital virtual viewing tools and only attending with members of their own family or support bubble. Professionals should also be using sanitiser and occupants be asked to clean door handles before and after each visit.

It is clear that for the foreseeable future the way in which the housing market and property industry professionals operate will be greatly affected by measures put in place to limit risks of transmission. Even with 90% of high street agents estimated to be re-open, the thought of walking into a local high street estate agent’s without an appointment seem remote and alien in the current climate, yet the demand for housing will continue. It is crucial that guidance is followed to enable the housing market to remain open.

Today’s Conveyancer spoke to Karl Knipe, Director at Kings Group about how he is dealing with the new requirements.  

What are the practical steps you have taken to deal with the social distancing requirements.  

“Access to our office is now appointment only. When a vendor or buyer registers, we invite them in to see us but the days of just turning up at the office are over for now.  

“From a staffing point of view we’re running reasonably lean, while unheard of before this crisis, there are now times of the day when the office is actually closed because staff are out on viewings or valuations.  

“The reopening of the high street may force us to review this but to a certain extent we don’t want to. We see this as an opportunity to demonstrate greater professionalisation. If you think about other professional services, like seeing your solicitor, or going to the doctor or dentist, you make an appointment. Here is an opportunity to do the same with estate agency.”  

How are you conducting property viewings

“Before we even consider conducting a viewing we’re screening all applicants to ensure there is a level of interest that warrants a viewing. And I think in the current climate it’s fair to say we’re setting a high threshold to ensure we not exposing people to unnecessary risk.  

“On the viewings we’re following the industry guidance; we’re ensuring we remain 2m from people and we’re asking vendors to prepare the property as best as they can. We ask them to open doors and windows and provide as clear access as possible, ideally leaving the property for the duration of the viewing.  

“We’re then ensuring that we have the appropriate PPE and are encouraging purchasers to do so as well.”

What has the response been from vendors and purchasers?

“The most important thing from our point of view is making vendors and purchasers as comfortable as possible.  

“Within the area we cover we have seen a range of attitudes toward the requirements… in some cases we see vendors and buyers being very diligent, arriving in gloves and face masks, and in other cases being less so.  

This is one of those situations were the customer is always right… and we have a responsibility to respect their feelings and, provided we are compliant with the guidance, set people at ease with the process. 

Technology is a tool that is being highlighted in keeping professionals and home movers safe. The guidance recommends the use of electronic verification methods and electronic signatures used where possible. This will help reduce the risk of transmission not just from physical contact with clients but also transmission through paper document, although there are currently no government guidelines obliging protective equipment be used for documentation.

As Karl Knipe mentioned, many agents are “screening” the potential viewers before arranging a physical house viewing; however purchasers and agents are also taking a “virtual first” approach to property viewings. To help narrow down the potential viewers to those with a genuine interest, agents are ensuring that there are an array of images and viewing tools available before conducting a physical viewing.  

Ben Robinson, MD of Landmark Estate Agency Services, home to floor plan drawing tool Metropix tells us how their agents are responding.  

Will we ever buy houses without seeing them? Do we want to? 

“This will very much depend on who the buyer is and what the circumstances are.  For investment buyers, being equipped with virtual viewings, 3D floor plans, photos and location data may give them all they need to make an informed decision.  However, when it comes to people buying a property to live in with their families and loved ones, I don’t foresee many property transactions happening without a physical viewing first.  People still need to get a ‘feel’ for the property, its location, condition and surroundings before a purchase is made. It’s such an investment that I think this would be very rare, even if armed with all the digital assets available to them.” 

Have you seen an uptick in interest in Metropix or any of the virtual services provided since the market reopened? 

“This month, we have just launched upgraded 3D floor plans in our Metropix system and we’re seeing a great deal of interest in these.  While we have been confined to our homes – and even now with social distancing measures in place – the way in which we browse for new homes has changed.  Consumers really want to have access to as much property information as possible upfront, before they actively go out and conduct a physical viewing.   Therefore being able to really get to grips with a property’s flow and layout, whether via traditional 2D floor plan, or now with professional 3d floor plans, in conjunction with virtual viewings, photos and descriptions will increase in importance.” 

What advice do you have for agents? 

“Being able to adapt to the new normal and offer a flexible service that responds to any concerns that buyers and sellers may have in today’s world will be the winning formula.  Customer service, speed of transaction, transparency of data will continue to be high on buyers and sellers’ check-lists, however also being able to provide virtualised viewings which can be conducted at any time, as well as detailed floorplans and quality photos will be priorities – that way, enquiries for physical viewings are likely to then be made by buyers who have already got a good impression of the property, in advance.  Making sure you are therefore prepared and able to deliver on those wishes will stand you in good stead.”

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