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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

Countrywide pleads to government to allow agents to return to work

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.

Yours

Paul Creffield

Chief Executive, Countrywide plc

 

Poll: Is Countrywide right to make this plea to government?

PLACE YOUR VOTE BELOW

  • Andrew Ireland

    Actually, I think you address a minister as simply "Dear minister", bit amateur otherwise. And I personally wouldn't use grovelling terms such as "we plead". Sounds too desperate.

  • Welsh  Cynic

    The principle is right and I would enthusiastically back the request. After primary school children being able to return to classes, I would propose Estate Agents, as strong candidates for the next step. Social distancing and other safety measures are easily applied and it would give a clear boost to confidence, which is now needed to encourage a return to 'normal' life.

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    Still far too early ! Review once there is a significant drop in all the statistics.

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    Not a company I’d be championing as a leader in the industry they are greed driven profiteers and cause more damage to the housing market than shitemove, let’s hope the company dies quietly like all the independents that they starved for shareholder greed and profit. I bet the ones asking to go back are the top end of the business not the poor buggers on low basics who deal with front of house.

    The virus is still deadly to a small amount of the population and restrictions need to stay in place anyone saying otherwise does not have the best interests of those at risk in mind.

    The market is still open apart from a lack of confident buyers, the industry can survive as long as lenders can lend and solicitors can convey, Ive done plenty valuations in last 4 weeks, ensured safeguarded viewings can be done, I’m a business owner tho and don’t risk my staff who are all working from home dealing with what they can while I take the risk and keep the options open to those who need it, I’ve lost 4 sales out of 50 so far mainly down to fear and my lettings side is helping local government house urgent cases, those who can help help and work it out without begging to in pocket ministers and crying about loss of profits when the government have safeguarded for a reason.

  • Matthew Payne

    The stark truth will never feature in the comforting 5pm briefings or on the 10pm news, it will damage confidence too much, but at the same time it is creating a false dawn. The nightingale hospitals are empty and cases are dropping. Did the experts get it badly wrong and build hospitals we don't need? No, because the hospitals haven't been built just for this Spring. Lockdown 1 as this is, has just been to immediately gain some control before a lull, then wave/spike 2 will start. Millions of people in the UK are still going to get the virus as so few of us have had it, but HMG wants to try and manage how many in any given rolling period. The trouble is according to virologists, it spreads too quickly when it starts again, and locking down again is the only way to gain that control back when you lose it. It is essentially uncontrollable as noone knows who has it, just like flu, but that isnt as deadly. So, lock, unlock, lock unlock, lock unlock is the way the scientists say it has to happen, or just trust to the Gods. People need to return to work for many different reasons when relatively safe to do so, as we all need to get on with life, however whoever goes back to the office first probably wont be there for long, and this will be a cyclical process until noone is at risk of dying from it.

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    I do believe that us Estate Agents should be up there as one of the first to return to work. However my concerns are a) we dont want to be thrown to the sharks if it genuinely is not safe to do so. Basically there is no rush for us to return to work if its not safe to do so as if we are honest yes our offices have low traffic however myself as a valuer will be needing to visit houses, be in and out of the office a lot etc. I want to make sure our office is fully equipped with PPE before returning.
    B) I dont think that there is any point returning until banks allow their usual 5-10% deposit for mortgages, as this is going to stop most first time buyers getting on the ladder which is a majority of customers. The government would also need to make it crystal clear that restrictions are lifted to the public so that they actually feel they can go view houses/come in the office. Otherwise we wont be successful reopening.

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    Countrywide have been practising social distancing for several years, keeping their branches empty and dealing with less and less people every year for the last 10!

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    Is pushing for the relaxing of lockdown and your staff to be in the frontline in their best interests or the best interests of the country? The UK has the highest number of fatalities in Europe despite the fact that we had the benefit of seeing how this new disease plays out as only a few months ago we saw it rip through Spain and Italy. I remember looking at their fatality figures which were astronomical at the time compared to ours and hoping we would learn and act. I had customers based in those countries who were under strict lockdown while we were boozing at Cheltenham saying to me that they were really concerned for the UK as it appeared to them that we were not taking this seriously at all. I believe they were correct. It is way too soon to get complacent and too soon to lift the restrictions especially in densely populated cities. So far we have got off lightly and this is because we are in lockdown the figures would be significantly higher if we were not. I hope the government stay firm and keep public health the priority and when businesses do reopen they are given clear instructions as to the safety of their employees especially giving employees the option to work from home, not overcrowding small offices and providing the correct PPE.

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