The only certainty at the moment is ongoing uncertainty. It’s something we’ve got used to in 2020, but it’s still not ideal.
At present, no-one can say with absolute confidence where things will stand from one day to the next, let alone looking further forward. It’s a guessing game for now, but one thing’s for sure – the next few months will look very different for agency to any other previous lead-up to Christmas.
Whether it’s office parties, decorating branches for special occasions, or pushing through deals while under local lockdown restrictions, nothing will be ordinary – in-keeping with the last year as a whole!
That said, it’s important to remember that last winter we were living under a cloud of Brexit stalemate and election uncertainty, which means in many ways the property market is in a far stronger position now.
The end of Help to Buy in its current format, the stamp duty holiday, low interest rates, a competitive mortgage market and people eager to be in their new home before Christmas are all helping to drive demand in the sales market, while in the rental market demand and activity remain robust.
Here, I outline some top tips to keep the positivity flowing this winter, even in light of difficult economic and social circumstances.
Continue to do good and get your name out there
At this time of the year, many agencies would normally be sponsoring their local Christmas market, the local school’s Christmas fete, the pantomime, the lights switch-on or some other Christmas-based event.
Some of these will definitely not be going ahead as normal because of Covid, while the prospects of others taking place remain uncertain. Even then, they are likely to be smaller-scale, with restrictions in place and fewer people attending.
But don’t despair. Box clever and see how you could use your sponsorship/advertising budget for other things. Perhaps you could sponsor a local food bank or soup kitchen – more important than ever at this time of the year – or get involved with virtual Christmas quizzes, choirs and events?
If fetes or markets are still going ahead, albeit with social distancing and limits on numbers in place, it’s still a great way to advertise your brand, show you’re a part of the local community and give back to the people who enable your agency to flourish throughout the year.
The festive season is also a time for generosity, and sending a Christmas card or gift to your valued customers could boost your reputation – as well as being a kind gesture in itself. Many older and more vulnerable people might be particularly lonely at this time of the year, so perhaps you could look to get involved in some initiative which supports them – just hearing another person’s voice can sometimes be enough.
Inviting customers in for mince pies and mulled wine wouldn’t be a wise idea this winter, but you can find other innovative ways to let your clients know you value their custom. As we see every week in our Agents Do Charity section, agents do many wonderful things in their local community to raise money for good causes – if you’re lacking inspiration, you might find something there.
We know footfall has fallen massively during the pandemic and very few people are visiting agent branches in-person, with the government advising that this is done on an appointment-only basis and with face coverings worn by all. Restrictions on mixing indoors are only likely to get more stringent the closer we get to winter.
As a result, you might be wondering this year whether it’s worth decorating your office, an annual tradition that many agents embrace with gusto.
If people aren’t coming into the office, and there are fewer people pounding the pavements outside, you might quite rightly ask: is it worth my while?
The answer to that, in my view, is an emphatic yes. While high streets in major city centres have seen a massive fall in footfall, the opposite has actually been true for suburban towns and villages. With many more people now working from home, there are more out and about in their local area.
We all need cheering up after the year we’ve had, and there is little more joyous and uplifting than the festive period. It’s always a pleasure for us to see the effort and innovation agents put into decorating their offices and we’d love for this to the be the case again. Dust down the decorations, get the tree ready, hunt out the fake snow, and go to town (within budgetary reason!)
Last year, we had a magnificent reaction – the best yet – to our call-outs for Christmas photos and videos. From dodgy jumpers to quirky singalong videos, and Dickensian-style displays to fine Xmas poems, we were spoilt, and we’d love for that to be the case this year despite the difficult situation we all find ourselves in.
Even if videos and decorations aren’t possible, we’d love to see the innovative ways you’re marking Christmas this year – and Halloween before, if you fancy it.
Celebrate…in a different way
We all deserve a break after the year we’ve had, and Christmas is usually the time when teams, companies and branches come together as one to eat, drink (lots usually!) and be merry. While the Rule of Six will put a spanner in the works of any Xmas bashes this year, there are other ways in which you can bring the whole team together.
You may want to do Christmas drinks via Zoom, a Christmas quiz, or a socially distanced meet-up in a bar or pub (as long as you’re adhering to all the rules).
For all the talk of Christmas being cancelled, that’s not really the case, is it? It will just be different, and in some ways may be better and more intimate as we all appreciate those small things in life much more and enjoy spending time with those closest to us.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that less is often more and that humans are remarkably adaptable when faced with change and danger.
Office parties won’t be the same this year – they probably won’t ever be the same ever again thanks to the WFH boom (some might say that’s no bad thing!) – but the fun can still happen in more innovative, digital ways.
Heads of finance everywhere will also be rejoicing that the (often sizeable) Christmas party budget will be significantly smaller this year!
Embrace digital solutions
If you haven’t already, now is the time. The internet has really come into its own in the last seven or so months – how would we have coped without it? – and things are highly unlikely to return to the way they were pre-pandemic. We are now becoming a cashless and paperless society; something that has threatened to be the case for a number of years, but has never quite come to fruition.
Many more people are now shopping online – even those from the older generations who may have previously been reluctant to do so.
And the property market is starting to follow suit, with the Land Registry continuing to implement digital solutions and everything from Right to Rent checks and viewings to tenant referencing and the signing of mortgage deeds now happening remotely.
The pandemic has accelerated the change that was coming anyway, and we have all managed to embrace a new world of working from home, paying only by card, scanning QR codes, checking in on the NHS app and avoiding situations where face-to-face or hand-to-hand contact are required.
With restrictions only set to tighten as the weather gets colder, now is the time to get your digital systems in place. There are many excellent PropTech providers out there, offering everything from digital tenant referencing and virtual viewings to AI and data-led solutions. Products like MovePal, PortalPal and ChatPal – which help you to generate and then convert hot leads – can also help agents eager to streamline and simplify their processes.
Don’t be left behind by the digital revolution or pine for the old days – things changed overnight and they are never going back. Time to embrace change, not fear it.
Play the conditions
There is no doubt that big challenges lay ahead, particularly as the furlough scheme winds down, the Brexit transition period comes to an end and the full economic impact of Covid-19 starts to show.
But, as agents, you can only deal with the here and now. And, at present, market conditions are positive, with the post-lockdown mini-boom turning into something much more long-term which continues to sustain itself. That’s despite numerous potential obstacles being placed in the way.
Use this as a positive. Be realistic, but not downbeat. Be pragmatic, but not doom-laden. Things could get worse again, but they might not. We just don’t know. For now, it’s time to make hay while the sun shines (even if the sun is now hibernating!).
An influencer – who knew?
Yes, that’s right, I’m officially an influencer. Well, according to Simon Bradbury in his ‘top 35 most influential people in the property industry’ list over on Property Industry Eye, which has been stirring up a fair bit of debate. Simon thought I might have had the hump with him for calling me a journalist – quite the opposite, I was delighted with the accolade. I’ll take that that all day, even though I’m more of an ideas man.
Some great names on that list, and I’m honoured to sit in 17th place between Ed Mead and Bob Scarff – two titans of the industry.
Until next time…
*Nat Daniels is CEO of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.