We are still living in highly extraordinary times, perhaps evidenced best by the fact that the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was in intensive care for three nights in his own very personal battle against coronavirus. We wish him and everyone else battling this awful disease the very best.
We are about to enter week four of lockdown, and everyone is trying to adapt to the new normal of social distancing, one form of exercise a day, remote working, queuing outside supermarkets and only seeing loved ones (outside of your immediate household) via the likes of WhatsApp, FaceTime, Zoom and Skype.
There are some glimmers of hope in the fact that the epidemic in the UK might be peaking sooner than expected, and the signs that lockdown measures seem to have worked to contain the virus in other countries such as China, Italy and Spain. But this is no time to be complacent and there seems no consensus on how we get out of this.
What is the exit strategy? Will we see a series of lockdowns on and off for the remainder of the year until a vaccine is found? Will it be a combination of testing (to see who’s already had it) and immunity passports? No-one seems to know for sure.
One thing seems clear. Life won’t be returning to normal for quite a while yet. It means businesses across the country are having to make incredibly difficult decisions – about where to cut costs, which suppliers to lose, which staff to furlough. None of this is easy, but the various government initiatives – including the Job Retention Scheme, the Business Interruption Loan Scheme and VAT deferrals – are helping.
We’ve also seen the best of our industry in the last few weeks, with numerous kind gestures, charitable initiatives and examples of firms helping other companies out across our publications recently. Our Conquering Corona series (on EAT and LAT) has been at the forefront of this, while The ValPal Network (TVPN) has sought to help out its member base with tips on furloughing and how to cope with the coronavirus.
Here at Angels Media, we are doing our very best to help the industry through these difficult times. Our sites – led by Graham Norwood, Marc Da Silva and the in-house Property Investor Today team – are offering the latest breaking news, guidance, tips, features and possible ways through the crisis for agents, landlords and property investors.
We’ve witnessed some incredible reads and engagement on our stories about government guidance on home moving and whether or not house moves were essential in lockdown. We’ve also attempted to offer some light relief with our property TV ads feature ranking the best and worst adverts of the last few years (still time to vote for your winner on Twitter!) and our call-out for photos and videos of people working from home.
We’re helping out our TVPN member agents wherever we can, including rolling out the Advanced Rent Option (ARO) to more of our ValPal members at no additional cost during the crisis.
This is not the time for opportunism or taking advantage of the situation, but for everyone coming together to get through the crisis in the best possible state so we can come out the other side in a strong enough position to bounce back.
If you have any examples of how you’re helping the industry, or helping out your local community, please get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to feature them.
It’s also been heart-warming to see the now weekly ‘Clap for our Carers’ scheme, initiated by a Dutch Londoner named Annemarie Plas, be met with such gusto by the nation, with applause, shouting, fireworks, whistles and the banging of pots and pans suddenly a Thursday night at 8pm tradition.
Equally, major landmarks have been bathed in blue – as part of the #lightitbluecampaign – to thank the NHS staff and key workers who are doing so much to keep us all safe, well, fed and moved around during this pandemic. Kids have been drawing rainbows in support of the NHS and placing them in the windows of their homes, alongside teddy bears to allow other kids to play spot the teddy on their daily walks.
As well as this, we’ve seen numerous examples of community goodwill in action – to deliver food, medication and other essentials to those most in need – and celebrities stepping up to play their part, to either provide PE lessons for kids (Joe Wicks), nightly choir practice (Gareth Malone) or funds to feed NHS workers through the release of a daft but insanely catchy song about a baked potato (Matt Lucas).
The song, part of a campaign (Feed NHS) set up alongside actors Damien Lewis and Helen McCrory, will be stuck in your head for hours after thanks to a deceptively brilliant tune. The target of £1 million for University College London Hospitals Charity UK has, at the time of writing, nearly been reached, with almost 7,500 supporters. This talented musical family from Kent have also gone viral in recent days thanks to their brilliant lockdown adaptation of a Les Misérables song. Terrific.
Hopefully, once this is all over, there will be certain lessons learned and changes made, including paying key workers what they deserve, the continuation of the community spirit which we’ve seen fostered in many parts of the country that has maybe been missing in the last few decades, and a new appreciation from everyone for all those little luxuries that we take for granted such as going to the pub, watching a live football match or having a picnic in the park.
After the virus – what will the future shape of estate agency be?
It’s a question many have been asking, but estate agent recruitment guru Anthony Hesse recently gave his views on what he thinks the industry will look like once the current coronavirus crisis is over.
Hesse, the MD of the UK’s longest-established estate agency recruitment consultancy Property Personnel, says there will be long-term changes and lessons to be learnt, which will reshape the profession for many years to come.
“Over the past week or so of lockdown, I’ve been speaking to a number of senior directors in the big estate agency firms,” he comments. “And time after time, the perspective I’ve been getting is that we are inevitably going to see some massive restructuring taking place in the estate agencies of the future.”
“Firstly, and most obviously, a new awareness of just what technology can do is going to drive decision-making going forward. The ease and speed with which people have taken to communication platforms such as Zoom, Skype and Messenger – and some individuals doing so for the first time - mean that virtual viewings and even virtual valuations could become the norm.”
What is going to be interesting, he says, is the knock-on effect this will have on staffing, with directors asking why their agency doesn’t do more of what worked so successfully during time under lockdown.
“This means that operations are likely to be streamlined, and people previously brought in as temporary staff – such as those carrying out viewings at weekends, for example – might find that their workloads have melted away.”
He added: “Similarly, agencies with several branches across a relatively small geographic area will decide that a single office can do the job of three, with significant cost savings as a result.”
But Hesse thinks that the most important shake-up will come from a change in the way people in the industry will view their own profession.
“Difficult though the current situation is, this new experience of working exclusively from home will remind staff of the importance of spending more time with their families,” he says. “They will become increasingly aware of the frustrations of their job – such as the hassle of the daily commute or having to work at weekends.”
He also insists that those who have been treated poorly by their current employers won’t forget the experience in a hurry, and will start to look for other jobs – either within the industry or elsewhere.
“Once this crisis is over, I expect to see a seismic shift in people moving around from job to job, and from profession to profession, with some of them making the move to becoming self-employed. Inevitably, a number of experienced and talented staff will leave, who we will be sad to see go and will be hard to replace.”
During the horrors of a global pandemic, Hesse argues, it’s hard to see past the next few hours ahead. “But the truth is that one day we will emerge out the other side and enter something approaching normality once again. One of the lasting legacies of this coronavirus outbreak will be an increased understanding of why a good work/life balance is so important. And it’s the agencies that recognise this which will be the ones retaining and attracting quality staff in the future.”
Do you agree with Anthony about the future of agency? Let us know in the comments below.
Before I sign off, I want to personally wish former EAT editor and current editor of Property Industry Eye Ros Renshaw a speedy recovery from the awful injuries sustained in her recent fall. Our publications have a friendly rivalry, but we all recognise what a fine journalist and editor Ros is and hope she is back on her feet as soon as possible.
Until next time…and please keep safe!
*Nat Daniels is CEO of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.