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Norfolk estate agents use virtual viewings and PPE as offices reopen

PUBLISHED: 15:26 22 May 2020 | UPDATED: 16:39 22 May 2020

William H Brown will officially open its doors to customers next week, with strict safety measures in place.  Picture: William H Brown

William H Brown will officially open its doors to customers next week, with strict safety measures in place. Picture: William H Brown

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Easing of lockdown restrictions means that people are once again able to buy, sell or move home. Find out what some Norfolk estate agents will be doing to ensure safety.

People are now once again able to move home - but not if you are self-isolating, have symptoms or are shielding due to coronavirus. Picture: Getty ImagesPeople are now once again able to move home - but not if you are self-isolating, have symptoms or are shielding due to coronavirus. Picture: Getty Images

According to the UK government, more than 450,000 buyers have had to put their property plans on hold since March, as lockdown measures forced offices to close in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

But in a briefing on Wednesday, May 13, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said that the pressure to move had become “acute” for many people, and that the situation posed serious legal, financial and health implications.

As a result, Mr Jenrick set out what he described as a “clear, coherent and comprehensive plan to restart, reopen and renew” the UK housing market.

This meant that estate agents’ offices and show homes were now able to open, and viewings – whether virtual or in person – could take place. Removal companies, along with other essential parts of the sales and letting process, were also able to restart.

But the easing of measures came with several caveats designed to protect those involved in the process.

What are the government guidelines?

The government guidelines stress that, in the first instance, property viewings should continue virtually. Throughout lockdown, many agents have been using Zoom, Skype and Facetime to conduct viewings, and this is likely to continue. Many agents are even saying that this could become the norm.

But when viewings do happen in person, the government has created a clear plan of action for estate agents and buyers and sellers to follow. It includes:

Many homeowners have been using the internet to stay in touch with their estate agents or to conduct virtual viewings and evaluations - something some agents predict will continue, despite an easing of restrictions. Picture: Getty ImagesMany homeowners have been using the internet to stay in touch with their estate agents or to conduct virtual viewings and evaluations - something some agents predict will continue, despite an easing of restrictions. Picture: Getty Images

Visits being by appointment only. Open house viewings are not to take place and speculative viewings, where buyers or tenants are not yet serious, are discouraged.

All parties present at viewings must follow strict social distancing rules, staying 2m apart.

All internal doors should be opened where possible.

The current occupier must vacate the property for the duration of the visit, going out for their daily exercise or standing in the garden if it is possible to do so.

All involved in the process must wash their hands upon entering the property and, once the viewing has taken place, all surfaces in the property, including door handles, should be thoroughly cleaned.

Those who are known to have coronavirus, or who are self-isolating, should not be moving home or allowing trades people or professionals into their properties. In these circumstances, the government advises that all parties involved in buying or selling should agree “amicable sensible arrangements” to change move dates – something which has already been happening across the country since lockdown began.

Those who are clinically vulnerable, including those having to shield for underlying health conditions, are advised to consider their personal circumstances and to seek medical advice before deciding whether to commit to, or proceed with, moving home. If they do, all professionals involved must be made aware, and additional precautionary measures put in place.

Jan Hÿtch, partner at Arnolds Keys and chairwoman of the Norwich and District Association of Estate Agents, welcomed the news. She said it felt “like the canal lock gate has been released, with hundreds of pent up viewings taking place.”

Estate agents across Norfolk are putting measures in place to ensure that staff and customers remain safe. Picture: Getty ImagesEstate agents across Norfolk are putting measures in place to ensure that staff and customers remain safe. Picture: Getty Images

“The Great British public loves its property and, over the last week or so, we’ve certainly seen that to be the case,” she said.

“Not all agents are back yet and we haven’t had many people through the door, but that’s because people are being sensible about using technology.

“People have been absolutely fantastic – and people’s willingness to do virtual viewings and for vendors to pop on to Facetime and show people around has been great. Necessity is the mother of invention and, in this case, virtual viewings are certainly something we will continue doing into our ‘new normal’.”

So what safety measures are Norfolk estate agents putting in place? We spoke to several members of the Norwich and District Association of Estate Agents to find out.

JAN HŸTCH, Arnolds Keys

“We are taking safety measures very seriously, and all our branches have PPE and our staff have been trained on how to conduct one-to-one meetings safely.

“We are issuing all our property owners and viewers with our viewing protocol before they visit a property for the protection of both our staff and the public.”

Technology has meant that many people could still search for a new property while in lockdown. Picture: Getty ImagesTechnology has meant that many people could still search for a new property while in lockdown. Picture: Getty Images

Arnolds Keys’ six-point viewing protocol includes daily check-ins with staff to monitor their health and well-being, enhanced cleaning in offices, greater use of digital resources, the provision of PPE and limiting physical contact.

PETE WARD, William H Brown

“We welcome the recent government announcement, giving the green light for the housing market to reopen in England.

“We are undertaking a phased reopening of our branches to ensure that all the necessary safety procedures and precautions are in place to reassure and best serve our customers and staff. Our offices have commenced operations from Monday, May 18 – however, this is exclusively from behind closed doors as we roll out our preparations for safe working.

“Branch staff will start to undertake market appraisals and viewings in a ‘Covid-19 Secure’ manner during the week, utilising PPE and observing social distancing at all times. We will then officially open our doors to customers next week.

“There has been extensive planning and training to make sure that all our teams are prepared for reopening in this way, prioritising social distancing to keep all of our clients and colleagues safe, which remains our priority.

“We have seen a lot of pent-up demand with nearly 800 new enquiries from buyers last week also, and we have also launched new and innovative ways of marketing our homes in the current situation, such as 360-degree tours.”

Government guidance says that while physical property viewings can take place, all surfaces including door handles should be thoroughly cleaned. Picture: Getty ImagesGovernment guidance says that while physical property viewings can take place, all surfaces including door handles should be thoroughly cleaned. Picture: Getty Images

NICK ELEY, Watsons

“Watsons welcomed the news that the property industry was opening again, although we continue to encourage virtual viewings prior to any physical visits, and we’re able to carry out valuations remotely with our iValuate tool.

“Due to restrictions, some of our processes are slightly different but our dedicated employees continue to work with clients by phone, email and online.

“Our chartered surveyors and block and estate managers have continued to maintain their surveying and property management services while respecting the government’s health and safety guidance, putting the safety of our employees and customers at the forefront of the business and throughout the entire sales and service process.”

JOANNA MCINTYRE, Musker McIntyre

“As an industry, estate agents have a massive responsibility to ensure the safety of our staff, clients, customers and all the people in our communities at all times.

“Here at Musker McIntyre, we are setting out strict protocols and risk assessments on all viewings, valuations and appointments in line with government guidelines.

“The government wants the emphasis to be on virtual viewings first and foremost and we will, therefore, be enabling this via WhatsApp, Zoom and Google Hangouts and creating videos and virtual tours of the properties we have for sale and rent.

“Physical viewings should only take place when there is a buyer who is in a position to purchase and is genuinely interesting in putting an offer on the property. In light of this, all potential buyers will be vetted by our financial services consultant, Ross Walker, to verify each individual’s position before a viewing is conducted. Our vendors really do appreciate this.

“Sadly, we all have friends and families who have been directly affected by this virus and we must all be responsible for our actions. At this present time, all the offices are up and running remotely, with the actual premises being unmanned during this time of transition. We live in a world where technology can provide us with the ability to work remotely yet still run an efficient, professional and successful business, and that is what we will be doing for the time being.”

LOUIS DE SOISSONS, Savills

“The news that an eased lockdown means valuations and viewings can recommence in person is an encouraging first step on the road back to a functioning housing market, but the safety of clients and staff is our first priority so it is vital that we proceed with caution.

“Many buyers, sellers, landlords and tenants have had plans on hold and will now be keen to show and view properties in person. Last week’s detailed guidance has allowed this process to begin with strict protocols in place.

“However, we also recognise that there will be many others for whom in person viewings and valuations are not yet possible or the preferred option, and therefore virtual viewings and appraisals, used very successfully throughout lockdown, will continue to play an important role in our market, particularly in assisting buyers in selecting a short list of properties for actual viewing.

“Our residential offices have begun to reopen and we have put in place safe working and social distancing procedures in line with government guidelines.”


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