U-turn: Agency will now not be hosting an ‘open home event’

Pilkington Estates in Plymouth says it is now not planning to host an ‘open home event’ next month at a house in Exeter, after EYE contacted them in relation to a property listing on Rightmove.

According to the property listing, the £450,000 asking price for the house on Sylvan Road, EX4, was a ‘one off price for our open home event on Saturday the 6th of March’ – and a negotiator at the firm confirmed yesterday afternoon that viewings would be held that day from 11am.

Open house viewings represent a proven property selling process in normal times, but the decision by Pilkington Estates to host one now came as a surprise given that they are currently not permitted due to the pandemic.

Government guidance clearly states that where possible, initial viewings should also be done virtually, and in-person viewings should only take place when buyers are seriously considering a property.

In line with government advice, all physical viewings must be by appointment only and ‘no open house viewings should take place’.

When EYE pointed this out to the agency, Jon Pilkington, a director at the company, said that a mistake had been made and the wording on the listing would be changed to reflect the fact that an ‘open home event’ would not be taking place.

Given that the property listing had generated multiple viewing requests, Pilkington said that they would now be staggering viewings between 10am and 6pm on Saturday 6 March. 

“We have multiple viewings booked in for that day and we are booking in 15-minute time slots for each viewing,” he said. “We are also now happy to hold further viewings on a separate day if necessary.”

Covid-19 advice for estate and letting agents

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s guidance document setting out general advice and information for the housing industry and those moving home in accordance with the national lockdown was last updated in early January. It states:

Estate agents

Estate agency offices can remain open to the public. Estate agents should inform customers and their own staff about their Covid-19 procedures, so that they are safe throughout the sales process.

+ Agents should ask whether any party is showing symptoms or has been asked to self-isolate before going ahead with any viewing, or visits to offices.

+ Agents should inform visitors to their offices of the need to wear face coverings. Agents should ensure their offices are ‘Covid secure’ and that they take appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the disease.

Agents should wear face coverings while in close face-to-face contact with visitors and where other protective measures are unlikely to be in place, such as in clients’ homes during a viewing.

+ Agents should strongly encourage clients to view properties virtually in the first instance and then only physically inspect properties which they have a strong interest in.

+ Where they do not accompany the visit, they should make sure that both buyers and sellers clearly understand how the viewing should be conducted safely.

+ Agents should avoid driving clients to appointments. Advise clients to find alternative means of travel including public transport, walking, cycling or using their own vehicle. If this is not possible, follow the latest guidance on travelling safely with others including the use of a face mask and cleaning the vehicle regularly.

+ All parties viewing a property should wash their hands with soap and water (or hand sanitiser if not available) immediately after entering the properties, with internal doors opened and surfaces having been wiped down before they enter. Separate towels or paper towels should be used if possible and washed or disposed of safely after use.

+ Agents should do what they can to promote flexibility when arranging move dates, for example advising clients to ensure contracts have explicit terms to manage the timing risks presented by coronavirus.

+ Agents should work with their clients and other agents to broker a new date to move where sales are due to complete and one of the parties falls ill with coronavirus or has to self-isolate.

+ Agents should ensure that any keys are appropriately cleaned before handover.

+ Agents should ask clients whether they have returned to the UK from one of the countries not on the exception list. If clients have returned from a country on the quarantine list, agents can continue to progress their home move virtually until the quarantine period is over.

Letting agents and private landlords

Letting agents and landlords should be aware of and follow the government guidance on coronavirus and renting which contains further advice that may also be applicable such as on possession proceedings, repairs, maintenance and health and safety. Tenants should also be made aware of this guidance.

Tenants’ safety should be letting agents’ and landlords’ first priority. The government has put in place protections for tenants during the coronavirus outbreak, including legislation to delay when landlords are able to start proceedings to evict tenants by requiring landlords to give tenants longer notice periods than usual.

The guidance below for landlords and letting agents is to help them safely let empty properties, or properties which tenants are voluntarily vacating. Letting agents and landlords should endeavour to work with their tenants to sustain tenancies as far as possible, where the tenant wants to and is able to stay.

+ Landlords and letting agents should not conduct viewings in properties where tenants are symptomatic or self-isolating.

+ In other cases (such as where tenants have been determined to be clinically extremely vulnerable) where viewings can proceed, they should be conducted in line with the guidance on viewings earlier in this document.

+ Any visits to a property must be made in accordance with government’s guidelines on working in other people’s homes and social distancing.

+ If possible, necessary repairs, gas and electrical safety checks should be conducted in the period between a property being vacated and a new tenant moving in. If this is not possible and visits are needed to an occupied property, this should be done by appointment with measures put in place to ensure physical contact is minimised, for example with residents staying in another room during the visit.

+ Letting agents may also want to consider obtaining landlord and tenant consent for inventory clerk appointments to also occur before a tenant moves in or after a tenant moves out during vacant periods if possible.

+ Letting agents and landlords should take steps to ensure any properties are prepared ready for new tenants. This may include cleaning to minimise any potential spread of the coronavirus in line with government advice.

+ Letting agents and landlords should consider how best to conduct tenancy check-ins for new tenancies agreed, taking care to follow government advice on social distancing and public health advice to minimise the possible spread of coronavirus.

+ Letting agents and landlords are reminded of the temporary COVID-19 measures that adjust right to rent checks, temporarily allowing these checks to be conducted remotely. Lettings agents and landlords should consider other areas where in-person payments, referencing or checks can be conducted remotely instead and take further legal or professional advice if required to implement properly.

+ Moves into a house in multiple occupation (HMO) are allowed. However, there may be additional risks involved in moving into an HMO at this time which is why it is important that all involved take reasonable precautions. During viewings, tenants that share an HMO are advised to stay out of indoor common areas, such as kitchens, bathrooms or sittings areas, during a viewing. If it is not a tenant’s own private room that is being viewed they can also remain inside their room with the doors closed.

+ Moves into student accommodation are allowed. Letting agents, universities and accommodation providers should consider how best to conduct tenancy check-ins, following the latest public health advice and taking reasonable steps to reduce transmission.

You can read the full government advice on home moving during the coronavirus outbreak, which applies to people moving into homes in England, by clicking here.

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