The latest government rules combined with the Prime Minister’s recent address to the nation is clear – tougher measures are required to control the spread of the virus.
Everyone has a slightly different attitude to risk, and with each new set of guidance comes a shift in public attitudes. The public wants protection from the government to reduce the risks of contracting an avoidable illness, but they also want protection against avoidable economic hardship (according to the Health Foundation and Ipsos' recent public survey).
So, we all have a role to play – government, public and businesses large and small (and the press, but that’s a whole other topic!).
Let’s hope that common sense prevails and the wearing of PPE, washing hands, sanitising and minimising contact with others will prevent us facing further draconian measures.
So how is this affecting the lettings industry? Well, actually, very little has changed to the protocols already in place with agents and suppliers such as inventory providers, aimed at minimising the spread of the virus. A more significant change to letting agents is the requirement to wear masks while working in high street offices.
Office workers are being told to work from home where possible, so effective systems and the ability to outsource tasks to reliable, responsible experts will be paramount in the weeks and months ahead.
In terms of how we continue to adapt as an industry, the focus has to be on creating as much confidence as possible for landlords and tenants, by ensuring safety measures are in place and being adhered to, and technology solutions are being utilised where possible, to minimise contact for staff and clients.
Now is the time to remind, re-enforce and monitor those protocols with staff and clients to ensure safety is paramount and safeguard the continuity of our industry.
Minimising face-to-face contact is a priority and it is possible to conduct inventories, check-ins and check-outs without the need for the tenant to be present. It is also vital that the tenant is reassured that in addition to his/her safety, this will not be detrimental to his/her tenancy and/or deposit - utilising an independent provider will offer additional comfort in this regard.
We achieve no contact reporting by using our DigiSign service. The system electronically delivers the inventory to the tenant enabling him/her to add comments back into the report if he/she wishes, with the facility to include photos and record an electronic signature - all within a specified timeframe.
Our inventory expert will then assess these comments before sending a final copy onto the agent and tenant. If the tenant forgets to sign, an automated message will be issued informing them the report has been deemed accepted, removing the requirement for further chasing.
If you are conducting these in-house utilising software such as Kaptur, you can still achieve the same with emailing inventories, requesting tenant input and then using docusign software to capture the signature. Our system just removes the chasing element on behalf of the agent.
There are situations where the tenant and possibly another supplier is at the property whether planned or not, and this is where our Covid processes are utilised. Most agents are vigilant in asking health questions, to ensure tenants do not have symptoms, which is then reaffirmed by our inventory experts at the property.
Keys and surfaces touched are sanitised, PPE is used and social distancing is requested by our expert. The same protocols are in place if we are collecting or returning keys to the agent office.
Whether you are outsourcing your inventories, check-ins and check-outs, or conducting them in-house, below is a quick checklist to remain Covid-compliant to protect staff, tenants and our industry:-
Minimise tenant contact where feasible with the use of technology
Document your Covid procedures for visiting properties with and without tenants present and re-issue to all staff and suppliers and of course to landlords and tenants
Check your risk assessment is up-to-date and re-issue to staff
Do you have enough PPE and is everyone aware of when to use masks, sanitize keys, surfaces and hands and how to dispose safely
Revisit processes regularly as the current situation is fluid and fines apply for breaking Covid rules
The other aspect to consider is assisting the Test and Trace service by keeping records of staff members for 21 days. Whilst this is not mandatory for our industry, more specifically relating to designated venues in certain sectors, it's wise to consider this.
If a member of your staff contracts the virus, most business owners will be eager to ensure anyone they have come into contact with in the last 21 days are notified.
Inventory reporting keeps tenancies, the deposits and all parties safe from unfair claims and it keeps the housing market moving with check-ins and check-outs. Tenants and landlords may have differing attitudes towards risk, but the focus must remain on minimising interaction with others by communicating clear guidelines.
*Nick Lyons is Founder and CEO of No Letting Go, the UK's largest provider of inventory services