Countrywide has added its weight to the campaign asking the government to allow agents to get back to work - and quickly - as the lockdown eases.
In a letter to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick this afternoon, Countrywide chief executive Paul Creffield sets out a detailed case of how his own agency - and the industry at large - would help the wider economy if allowed to resume work in the first wave of reopening after the lockdown.
He also emphasises how the normal working of agents, especially in offices, makes social distancing a relatively straightforward challenge.
Here is Creffield’s letter to Jenrick, reproduced in full below:
Dear Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP
Government lockdown exit strategy post COVID- 19
No one can doubt that these unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures and we are fully supportive of the lockdown introduced by the UK Government on Monday 23rd March 2020 to tackle the spread of the coronavirus. As a nation of home-owners the strict Government ‘stay at home’ message really does mean our homes are our haven.
With the above in mind, I am contacting you directly to ask that, when planning the lock down exit strategy that you include Estate Agents and Letting Agents in the first wave of returning businesses.
Countrywide PLC is a property services group operating in residential lettings and sales, financial services, surveying and conveyancing; employing 10,000 colleagues across the UK. The total tax contribution of the Group was £296.4 million (2018: £296.4 million), which includes both taxes borne of £48.5 million (2018: £53.0 million) and taxes collected totalling £247.9 million (2018: £243.4 million).
We operate through a network of 740 high street branches including Bridgfords, Bairstow Eves, Hamptons, Spencers, Morris Dibben. Helping local people rent or let their homes, buy and sell their homes, underpinned by regulated protection and mortgage advice. All of these branches are closed and colleagues have been advised to stay at home and follow UK Government advice until further notice. Our existing customers and prospective new customers continue to try and reach us through our web portals, on-line chat and telephone and we have received into the business in excess of 80,000 enquiries.
We also manage 89,000 properties in the UK on behalf of private and investor landlords and have a responsibility to keep our tenant community safe with a roof over their heads. In the weeks since lockdown we are operating with a significantly reduced team so have asked that tenants report only essential or emergency housing issues. Since 23rd March 2020 we have received and managed over 9,000 essential or emergency repair requests from our tenants.
The COVID–19 situation is affecting Countrywide and the estate agency and property services industry heavily. It is just not the impact on these businesses but a real knock on effect to other traders locally and nationally that feed off the housing market and home moves of people. What we can say with our in depth knowledge of the market evidenced through our customer data and analytics, is that consumers are still proceeding with sales and lettings, and their future plans to move. The longer the lockdown continues, the greater is the impact to the sector and all other business in the UK High Streets that trade off this transaction.
Most estate agency offices of which we believe there are some 20,000 in the UK are not heavily staffed so it is possible to implement social distancing rules and guidance and this, of course, could be a pre-condition to return to work. By ensuring that estate agents are in the first wave of businesses allowed to return to work (and others that feed off that), it will have a kick start effect on the economy particularly if it is sooner rather than later whilst consumers are minded to continue with their home moves.
We would therefore plead with you to make sure that estate agents are included in the first wave of businesses allowed to return to work on the High Street.
As a major employer in this industry we are located on High Streets and in local communities across the UK and as such would be delighted to support you as an expert advisor or planning in relation to how COVID–19 impacts on our industry and the property sector as a whole.
I look forward to hearing from you very soon.
Chief Executive, Countrywide plc