The not-so-new normal: how agents are adapting to lockdown

It’s now been some time since the coronavirus pandemic began to seriously impact the housing market, and the lives and businesses of those operating estate agencies within it.

Closed branches, staff furloughing and significantly reduced sales and letting volumes have all now become the new normal.

But for those who run estate agencies, it’s also a rare moment to take stock: both to look at their operations in a new light, and plan ahead for what happens when the market revives.

We talked to three Zoopla agents to find out how they’re approaching life and business during the lockdown.

Jonathan Gordon, Clan Gordon, Edinburgh

Gordon’s team may be working from home, but he and his business partner Andrew are still working hard with them to manage the agency’s portfolio of 500 rental properties.

“The workload has really gone down because we’re not doing property inspections or accompanied viewings. But, the communication work has spiked as both tenants and landlords really need support and advice at the moment,” he said.

Gordon says that so far the professional profile of his tenants means they haven’t been defaulting on their rent and that, even if their employers do get into trouble, they tend to have been furloughed rather than made redundant.

In the know

“The hardest thing is that the team used to work in an open-plan office, so we all used to know what was going on,” he added.

“This isn’t possible when you’re all online, and we all miss the banter too. None of the staff are enjoying working at home, it’s safe to say.

“I’m fine working from home but my business partner isn’t enjoying it so much as he’s got teenage children – and they’re not happy being cooped up,” he said.

Lee Pendleton, James Pendleton, London

Lee, who’s working from home in south London after sending all his staff home from his firm’s nine-branch network, says that at the moment it feels like an extended Christmas break. As he would do after the festive period, he aims to come out fighting once normality returns.

“I’ve spent the last week helping the team call all our 200 sales clients and 1,200 landlords, fighting fires when we need to, and communicating with the 95,000 people on our database,” he said.

The company has stopped selling and letting property and is following government guidance on social distancing measures. 

Lee says being away from the office for so long is an opportunity for him to look at the business afresh and make improvements, so that the agency can come back stronger once the coronavirus period has ended.

Steve Wayne, Benjamin Stephens, Bedfordshire

Steve has furloughed his staff after consulting with them all. He himself is working from home, running the still-active lettings side of the business single-handedly.

He’s been fielding calls from existing and prospective tenants, as well as landlords calling about properties managed by his firm’s block management arm. Steve says his property software CRM suite has been ‘so important’ at this time, given that he’s looking after the company on his own.

Despite the national headlines, his phone has been ‘ringing off the hook’ with people looking for properties to rent. 

Time for reflection

Steve welcomes the opportunity to reflect and learn about the things his business could do better, as well as spending more time with his family.

“I know it’s horrendous out there, but these days and weeks are an unusual opportunity to step back and enjoy family life despite the worries about the future – I’ve got two children under three years old and normally I’d never get this sort of quality time with them,” he said.

“Also, you’ve got to try and look at the positives despite what’s going on. I’m never going to have the opportunity to plan ahead for the six months following the end of the crisis. My advice to other agents is to use this time wisely.”


 

Author: Nigel Lewis, property journalist