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Back to work for estate agents – but what does that mean?

Although, naturally, we’re delighted to be back in business, the Government’s decision to lift lockdown restrictions on estate agents hasn’t been welcomed by everyone.

It’s understandable really. Let’s face it, there are so many people still confined to quarters or having to deal with restrictions imposed to try to limit the spread of COVID-19. People are missing their families and – dare we say it – even missing their usual work routine too.

So having to watch as estate agents were given the go-ahead to return must have been galling – particularly if we acknowledge our profession has a certain stereotype to overcome anyway.
But, when you drill down into the detail, it’s not quite as simple as it may seem. We’ve all seen the jokes about putting your home on the market just so friends and family can come round for a visit – but it’s really not quite that simple.

The restrictions
So, for the record – and also to reassure anyone considering a sale right now – here are the restrictions estate agents must observe to be able to market a property safely and with minimum risk to our staff and customers.
• First of all, if you call us to inquire about a sale, the first thing we have to do is ask if you’re currently quarantined, in self-isolation or if you’re aware you may be carrying the virus. Some may think we can simply assume you’re safe. After all, would you begin the process if you weren’t? However, if we were to expose any of our clients to the risk of infection simply because we didn’t ask an obvious question, the implications could be huge.

• Currently, estate agents can only meet clients in person by appointment. You can’t just wander into the office anymore. Of course, this is a more significant change for high street businesses rather than online agents like us but, just the same, we thought we needed to mention it.

• The same appointment-only rule also applies to viewings. We have to be able to inform the vendor of a date and time. Open-house viewings are currently not possible. Agents have also been encouraged to only book viewings for buyers with a significant interest in a property. In other words, if a house simply ticks the boxes on a buyer’s wish list, we’ll help them to do a bit more research online before committing to a visit. It’s a step away from the usual “just browsing” philosophy but, from a buyer’s perspective, at least they can be sure the potential buyer in their home is serious.

• Agents can still accompany prospective buyers at viewings but must adhere to social distancing guidelines and seek to maintain a distance of 2m between all parties involved. If the design or the size of the property makes that difficult, the agent should advise all those present to wear facemasks. If the agent doesn’t intend to be there in person, it remains their duty to inform both the buyer and vendor what is expected of them to ensure the viewing is safe.

• If an estate agent offers to give you a lift to a viewing, they’re in breach of the guidelines. Currently, buyers are expected to make their own way there.

• As for the vendor, it is their responsibility – or the agent they choose to represent them if they’re absent – to ensure all internal door or cupboard handles and all surfaces are wiped in advance with paper towels or cloths which should be disposed of safely afterwards.

• The estate agent or vendor is also obliged to ensure everyone washes their hands or uses a hand sanitiser on entering the property. If the property is vacant, the estate agent should also ensure keys are sanitised after each viewing.

• Once a sale has been agreed, if either party has to delay as a result of a COVID-19 infection or self-isolation, the estate agent is obliged to negotiate a new completion date. As a result, flexibility ought to be built into any agreement, with explicit terms outlined in contracts to address challenges which could be posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Hopefully, we’ve covered all the bases but, if you’d like any more information on how to proceed with a sale, feel free to give us a call or drop us a line. We’d love to help if we can.
Meanwhile, if you know anyone else who might find this blog useful, feel free to share on your social media accounts.