One of the industry's senior agency leaders says it would be a mistake for agents to be stopped from working in offices if there is another full-scale lockdown in England.
Jeff Doble is chairman of Dexters, the London agency with some 1,500 staff in 70 offices across the capital: it has around 60,000 tenants under management as well.
The Welsh Government has this week told agents in that country to work from home for 16 days from the end of this Friday, and is insisting branch offices be closed.
Doble has told Estate Agent Today he is critical of the Welsh Government’s definition of agency staff as ‘non-essential retail’ and thus obliged to close; while he accepts offices may have to close to the public, he maintains staff have vitally important work to do in offices, which cannot be done from home.
"We’ve done some work with the RICS to try and ram home the point, our main concern is that this becomes perceived wisdom and spreads to England” Doble has told EAT.
“Sadly there is a misconception as to what work goes on in our offices, behind the doors that are closed to the public. We don’t just have a couple of colleagues there waiting for people to drop in.
“The Welsh administration say that work in safe offices is acceptable but then say we can’t open them, which in London would put us in an impossible position.”
Dexters hit the headlines during the UK-wide spring lockdown, when social media reports and press articles appeared about some company staff continuing to work in offices.
In fact the agency completed over 400 pre-arranged house moves in the early days of the UK lockdown, and set up back-office operations to service tenants - often with queries which, by law, the agency had to address.
Doble now says that experience should help form policy if there is a wider Wales-style lockdown across England or more specifically in London.
“We are pretty ‘essential’ if you and your family are one of thousands we’re helping move home next week or you’re one of our 60,000 tenants and you get a leaking roof or need a gas safety certificate. There is a vast amount of work we have to do locally that cannot be put off or done from the kitchen table. We are good at it and have well practiced, safe routines” he insists.
“On average all through the last lockdown we arranged over 100 new London Lettings every week to essential workers alone, people’s housing needs don’t just wait.
“We are letting thousands of vacant properties in London currently and even in Wales it seems that tenants could still view those, as well as do virtual viewings.
“Typically our customers want to see over 10,000 properties every week at the moment” he adds.
Instead, he believes the Welsh Government now and any other UK administration handling a future lockdown should be more localised in their restrictions, and should be more understanding of the fundamental importance of housing market activity.
“In short, the Welsh should merely be saying that agents must be closed to the public and operate within the existing Government guidelines, putting off physical viewings of occupied property until after the fire break” he concludes.