While we are pleased to be back working in the PLG offices, doing viewings and site visits, getting back to some degree of ‘normality’ has been a strange experience. Of course, PLG remained busy working remotely during lockdown but now our offices have re-opened, we are back in what we would consider to be a more usual environment.
Somewhat ironically, for us as a business going back to work in the office has proved a slightly bigger challenge than mobilising the team to work from home. The cleaners now come every day, rather than twice a week, and our offices certainly look different (and not just because they are cleaner). The desks have been re-configured to allow for social distancing and to enable us to keep two metres apart. But even with the addition of some industrial-sized Perspex screens and plenty of PPE, we have still managed to re-integrate well.
How we feel about being back differs from person to person. While PLG’s co-director Glenn feels as though he’s never been away, for James, our lettings and sales manager, it reminds him of his first day at PLG because he had been away from the office for such a long time.
Viewing property to rent or buy on behalf of clients is a large part of what we do and was much harder during lockdown where it could only happen with vacant properties. Viewings are taking a little while to return to our usual levels, but it now feels like we are getting there. On the first day they were officially allowed, responses from agents for requests to view property included: “We don’t know what is going on at the moment” to “We won’t be open until 1 June”. Several agents confirmed that while viewings may now be allowed, some tenants are not keen to allow them in their rental properties.
Agents have also been hit by staff shortages affecting their ability to facilitate viewings, particularly where furloughed staff have not returned to work, and they can take a while to arrange. Phill, our Managing Director, almost ended up doing a viewing on behalf of an agent who found himself short-staffed and under pressure after a viewing with one of our clients. The agent’s small office meant he was down by a number of staff because of social distancing rules and he couldn’t be in two places at once so Phill offered his services. We think he was a bit disappointed when the viewing was cancelled at the last minute.
While things got off to a slow start with some agents, team PLG still managed 23 property visits in the first week back, including trips to Southampton, London, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. Much has been made of the PPE we must all wear and while the majority of agents are also adhering to these rules, we have been surprised at the number who are not. Some also need to be gently reminded to keep their distance. Thankfully, many of the properties we view have been empty so we have not had to worry about social distancing. Often agents leave us to our own devices, literally unlocking the property and waiting outside in the car until we are done.
The roads still resemble a ghost town but while this is eerie and takes some getting used to, on the plus side it reduces our travel times. Being able to pop into a shop for a cold drink or a sandwich, something we all take for granted, now needs a bit more thought and planning, ideas like taking a cool box to plug into the car in the morning to ensure chilled drinks and snacks for the day ahead are now as important as remembering the camera.
Overnight stays are harder. James had to stay for two nights while doing viewings and while usually he would be spoilt for choice as to places to stay, his options were dramatically reduced. He was able to secure a flat in Guildford, enabling him to cook dinner and prepare a packed lunch for the next day as his usual venue of choice ‘McDonald’s’ was closed.
So what next?
It is safe to say that the next 6 months are going to be uncertain for life in general and especially for the property market as a whole. Depending upon which report or commentary you read the market is buoyant, holding firm or dropping by 20%!
Clearly, nobody knows for sure as we’re very much in the early days of recovering from the lockdown and all of the other associated knock on effects of the economy crashing to a stop. Our early view is that supply and demand is going to be a big factor in the short term as there are so few properties available. Beyond that is less easy to predict but hopefully with ultra-low interest rates and a few more properties coming to the market the slump predicted by many will be avoided.
Whatever happens our clients, whether they are buyers or renters, will be in a stronger position than pretty much anyone and we’ll be ready to ensure that we get to view any suitable property within 24 hours of us being aware of it.