Don't give in to buyers wanting viewings, agents told

There’s been a surge in buyers wanting to view properties – but agents must sit on their hands and wait for government clearance.

That’s the advice from NAEA Propertymark overnight as it responds to the frustrating government guidance issued yesterday on how businesses emerge from lockdown.

To the disappointment of some in the industry, the government’s 60-page document which was released yesterday utterly ignored the housing market and agency sector.

Most analysts felt the nearest business category defined in the document was “non-essential retail” which may open sometime after June 1 so long as safe processes can be agreed. However at the same time the guidance suggests domestic cleaners can visit a home with immediate effect – which could be a loophole for agents to exploit.

A statement from Propertymark last evening says: “Consumers’ demand for viewings has increased today with potential buyers across the UK contacting members.”

But it warns that the guidance first set out by the government on March 26 – and explicitly ruling out physical viewings – remains in force and must be adhered to.

There is evidence that the lockdown is being circumnavigated by some agents; within minutes of the government document being publish yesterday afternoon, Estate Agent Today was told of a London agency chain allegedly showing viewers around properties surreptitiously; and in Devon, one agent told EAT that he had allowed a buyer to view a property after the owner stepped out.

However, the NAEA – although clearly frustrated that recent discussions with government have not led to any date for lifting agents’ lockdown – says the guidance set out over six weeks ago still holds.

“Consumers that are demanding viewings are leads to be nurtured until the point at which a face to face viewing – if that is the final hurdle – can once again be executed safely. This nurturing can involve video viewings and vendors conducting a more amateur viewing by phone around the house, where 360-degree software is not available” continues the association.

And NAEA Propertymark states: “It remains the case that where staff can carry out work from home this is Public Health England’s preference, freeing up space on public transport for those who cannot work remotely. When the time comes, agencies may choose to return staff to branches on a rotational basis combining branch and home-based work to accommodate re-opening with the required social distancing.

“Although Propertymark does not yet know exactly when the Government will allow estate and letting agency premises and auction houses to re-open, business managers must make appropriate preparations within the information that is available now.

“This will vary across premises and companies but key common areas are: arranging sufficient stocks of personal protective equipment and easy to access cleaning products and sanitiser but also considering whether there is sufficient space between work stations and preparation for minimising the hazards of frequently touched areas such as door handles, taps, kitchens, and toilets.”

Meanwhile another omission from the government document has been picked up by the Winkworth franchise chain.

“The key to keeping the second-hand and new build homes markets active is for banks to allow valuers to go back to work to allow mortgages to progress. This could be done with strict social distancing, hygiene and wearing of masks and other protective clothing rules in place. The government needs to consider this as a priority” explains Dominic Agace, chief executive of Winkworth.