“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Legal Support for Estate Agents – a New Approach

Aside from the obvious health crisis, the current pandemic is proving difficult for business worldwide and none more so than those working in the property industry, an industry whose very viability continues to be called into question day after day. A potential plummet in house prices, confusion over whether agents can claim commission payments as part of the Government’s Job Retention Scheme, the industry’s revolt against Rightmove and OTM’s failure to impress with its latest bid to win over agents have all taken up many column inches, both in the general and industry press in recent weeks.

Agents were forced to close their doors (physically at least), huge volumes of staff have been furloughed or made redundant, and new listings have evaporated overnight. Nonetheless, the full effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on agency and the wider economy will take some time before they are fully understood.

Support for Estate Agents

However, it is not all doom and gloom; physical premises have long been considered an absolute necessity of agency, particularly with the rise of online agency in recent years (which, despite non-stop speculation to the contrary, still only accounts for less than 8% of all exchanges as of Q4 2019) but this unprecedented crisis has forced business to embrace new ways of working, virtual viewings and working from home. It will be those in the property industry that can adapt and thrive at the present time that will emerge the strongest once the pandemic falls away and some sense of normality returns.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”. Charles Darwin

Covid-19 has challenged the established way of thinking. What will be the ‘new normal’? What do you need to prepare for? What’s the scale of the challenge you face and how do you carve out opportunities in what will be a very different market to that ‘Boris Bounce’ pre-Covid-19, a market allegedly benefiting from the notorious ‘Boris Bounce’?

Some business owners will be shocked to learn of the sentiment out there amongst staff as to what they want to happen next and their reluctance to return to what was established norms before Covid-19 took hold of the UK. For instance, a recent survey of 6,500 agents revealed that around 30% want to resume normal work once the pandemic is over. Furthermore, nearly 25% of responses to the same stated that their experience of the industry’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic made them question their future and their current role. Whilst pledging to return to work, they are set on a change in the medium term. How will your business deal with this? What approach will you take?

One thing that I have personally noticed these last few weeks is the large number of agents who have felt let down by their legal support, whether that be the large HR Providers or the smaller, non-specialist advisers who are not equipped to deliver fast, plain-English and sector-specific advice to agents at a time when huge decisions have to be made within hours and with no precedent to call upon to guide them.

For a long time, I have heard many agents complaining about the quality of advice they receive, the lack of personal service, and the ‘one size fits all’ approach taken by those providing advice to them, with their advisers handing them contracts more suitable for a car garage than a property agency and being entirely unable to deliver advice on defending redress scheme complaints, consumer protection regulations, commission disputes, regulatory requirements such as the 5th Money Laundering Directive, furloughing staff or even understand bread and butter basics of the industry such as what terms such as ‘ready, willing and able purchaser’, ‘sole selling rights’ or ‘joint agency’ mean.

These last few weeks the penny finally seems to have dropped, with agents finding the advice they desperately need lacking in almost every aspect.

This feeling will, without a change, only worsen in the weeks ahead as they will be left in the dark about how to prepare their businesses when they are finally allowed to open their doors again. Questions such as ‘how do I safely sell and/or let homes after lockdown? should I introduce a social distancing policy? What should be in it? Should my staff wear face masks when in the office or when doing viewings? What is staff refusing to come into the office for fear of infection? Should I put markings in the office to help staff and customers keep 2 meters apart?

Recent HMRC data has suggested that high demand awaits agents after lockdown is finally ended and so consideration needs to be given to those issues above now, not later. If you wait much longer, the potential opportunities which the current situation could present your business will simply pass you by.

Therefore, make a change today and ensure that you get the right legal support now before it is too late. Attwells Solicitors offer a range of legal services to agents.

This brings me to my last point. If you learn anything from these last weeks, it is that returning to ‘normal’ is not an option. I will leave you with the following thought:

“Nothing should go back to normal. Normal wasn’t working. If we go back to the way things were, we will have lost the lesson. May we rise up and do better”.

Lloyd is a Solicitor and Partner at Attwells Solicitors, heading up the firm’s Employment Law & HR Team. Lloyd specialises in acting for agents, dealing with the specific issues they face. Lloyd’s agent clients value his tenacity, plain-English advice, and deeper understanding of the industry in which they operate. Lloyd acts for both corporates and independents, large and small, offering fixed fees and popular retainer packages. Lloyd’s knowledge of the sector has been recognised by him delivering several talks across the UK for Propertymark on important law for agents, being invited to deliver learning courses to agents, and appearing in industry-leading webinars offering legal advice to Agents.

Contact Lloyd Clarke today on 01206 239761 for a FREE consultation.