I was recently handed an old Boardroom Magazine from August 1990; promising on the front cover “news, views & a taste of the good life”. What struck me was not just the incredibly good value of the properties listed in the advertising sections but more the number of estate agency firms who were no longer operating – ghosts of the past.
This was a reminder of how quickly times move on, trends change and with technology I believe that this has increased the speed of change. Decisions by companies in these trying times are going to be critical and the sense of purpose for how they operate in the future will continue to be tested.
As estate agents return to work, opening some offices “by appointment”, management decisions about which staff can return to work, and unfortunately those who may yet be made redundant, will now become the tightrope walk of truth. Carrying large overheads in shop rent, increasing staff costs, marketing costs and determining projections on what new listings to release into an uncertain market is a challenge in an environment of uncertainty.
Lonres.com confirmed that in prime central London, listings were down between mid- March to end April by 72% compared to the then-considered low volumes during the same period in 2019, so there are slim pickings for agents to be able to compare what looks great versus what looks bad, when it comes to advising clients on “value”. Many brave research teams have been inconclusively best-guessing projections for the prime central London and national property markets, but no-one really knows how this un-lockdown will go. Indeed, some research teams have said they are unable to project with incomplete data in this extraordinary vacuum of lost trade. Pressure to agree to launch with concerned vendors and guessing when buyers will be confidently back in the market, is a recipe for short-sighted decisions and long-term complications in company finances. Companies with low overheads, strong balance sheets and experienced agents are the go-to teams.
For me, managing client expectations and interests are done with cautious optimism. Having just agreed my first viewing, taking place this afternoon on a lovely first floor flat in Rutland Gate in Knightsbridge, I am certain that the human instinct to focus on quality products, with a continued flight to quality, will forever be a human behavioural need. Common sense must prevail in these unusual times; which is why at The London Broker now we are inviting potential buyers to self-certify themselves, in order to provide confidence to our vendors that any viewings are worthwhile; in so doing and to the best of our abilities, to know that we are dealing with responsible individuals who will behave sensibly, taking necessary PPE precautions, whilst looking at our listings.
So now will be the moment of truth to see whether the current travel complications, quarantine rules and social-distancing etiquette will continue to delay the return of the short-lived positivity experienced in the January and February residential marketplace. With lessons hopefully learnt about sharing and community, through the shared experiences witnessed & in supporting the amazing work of the NHS and essential services, helping one another is a gift that costs little but can help so many. The responsibility on estate agents to start to get the country moving again must be done with care and thought, making sure we protect the spirit of a nation bowed by this dreadful disease.