When might estate agents be allowed to open again?

When the country went into lockdown last month most people expected that it would last for a few weeks and then life would return to normal. It is becoming clear that this is not how things are going to turn out and that the return to normal life is going to be a gradual process that happens over many months. It is also becoming clear that during this period some businesses will be allowed to open sooner than others and the debate is underway about which businesses should be allowed to open first and why.

The horticultural industry has made a very strong case for itself. Apparently, it has a direct value to the UK economy of £12.6 billion per year and an indirect value to the UK economy of £24.2 billion per year. It employs 568,000 people which is 1.6% of the workforce and 65% of all the adults in the UK have visited a garden centre at least once in the last year. The risk of transmitting the virus during a trip to a garden centre many of which are mostly outdoors is low and therefore there is a strong case for garden centres to be allowed to open soon.

Judged by these criteria estate agents also have a strong case to be allowed to reopen their businesses sooner rather than later. The residential and commercial property market has a value to the UK economy of over £100 billion pa It directly employs over 1 million people and indirectly supports 1 million more. In addition to its economic value, the financial and human consequences for people who are forced to delay their move can be enormous. It is relatively easy to maintain social distancing whilst conducting a property viewing so the health risks are fairly small. It seems likely therefore that estate agents will be allowed to open or at least partially reopen in weeks rather than months. This is not a case for special treatment it is a statement of the facts. This means that you need to start preparing for this.

The housing market is not going to recover overnight so it is essential to prepare a month by month cash flow forecast to ensure that you have the funds necessary to get through this period of recovery. When do you expect the cash from your pipeline to come in? How many staff can you afford to bring back from furlough leave and when? How will you decide which staff these are? How will your staff cope with childcare arrangements if you reopen before their children return to school? Will you need to make some of your staff redundant when the furlough scheme ends and if so how will you fund their redundancy costs?

When will your office reopen to your staff and how will you maintain social distancing? When will it reopen to the public? How will you manage your workload if there is a backlog of viewings to do by a reduced team of staff. How will you deal with elderly or otherwise vulnerable vendors and purchasers? How will you deal with people who still refuse to allow viewings?

The more time you spend thinking about these things now the quicker your business will be able to get back to normal again and in these very difficult times, every day and penny will count.

Adam J Walker is a management consultant and business transfer agent who has worked in the property industry for over 35 years. Visit www.adamjwalker.co.uk or phone us on 01923 904784. We look forward to hearing from you.

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