Coronavirus: Don’t panic – but do plan for the impact it could have on your business

Sadly it looks as if coronavirus may bring tragedy to some UK  families, but its financial impact could be very serious for many more, so what can you do to prepare your business for it?

Twenty-five years of consultancy experience has taught me that when extraordinary events occur it is the businesses that prepare most thoroughly that are least affected, so what has your business done so far to prepare for this very serious threat?

Well, here is what some of my most successful clients have been doing.

One client spent two whole days last week writing a detailed coronavirus strategy paper which he has circulated to all his staff. They now all know what their roles will be and how things will change.

Another has carried out a detailed audit of all his staff’s home IT facilities and has bought a laptop for everyone who does not have access to one. He has also made changes to his intranet and software system to facilitate home working. On Friday, half of the staff will work from home to test how well the new systems work.

Another large client has asked their HR department to prepare a detailed paper about temporary changes to sick pay rules and absence policy  so that the staff do not have to worry that they will not be paid.

Several clients have prepared detailed cash flow forecasts that look at a range of different scenarios so that they can talk to their bank or their investors to ensure that they do not run out of working capital if there is a temporary slowdown in the housing market.

Another big area of concern for many of my clients is legal and compliance matters.

What will happen for example if all the gas safety inspectors get sick and gas safety certificates cannot be issued or renewed on time?

Should tenants be told that they cannot move into their new properties on the agreed date and will landlords be told that they cannot issue a Section 21 notice in the future because there was a period when the property did not have a gas safety certificate?

How about the new minimum energy efficiency standards that are due to come in for existing tenancies on April 1. Will landlords be given a period of grace because the energy assessor could not do the EPC due to sickness or will they be hit with a huge fine regardless?

On a more practical level, how will viewings be conducted when buyers, sellers and staff are all terrified of infecting each other, and what impact does health and safety at work legislation have on this? What precautions should be taken and what will you do if customers or staff fail to follow them?

I could write another 50 pages on this huge and complex subject but the purpose of this article is not to write your coronavirus policy for you. My objective is only to stress how vital it is that you sit down and write one today.

My most successful clients all planned for the impact of the tenant fees ban last year the moment it was announced and as a consequence they have not lost one penny of revenue.

Less successful agents did not think about this until June 1 and as a consequence they have lost up to 25% of their turnover. My most successful clients made a decent profit in 2009 because they sat down and planned how to cope with a downturn in the housing market the week after Northern Rock closed its doors.

Many estate agency businesses that failed to plan were forced to close their own doors during the following year.

It will be the same with coronavirus.

The impact that it will have on your business will be determined by the quality of the planning that you do now. I know that in a few months’ time I will be asked to sell estate agency and letting businesses that failed due to the impact of coronavirus, but there is absolutely no need for  your business to be one of them provided that you work out your strategy today.

In the face of a threat of this magnitude, you do not have a moment to lose.

* Adam Walker is a consultant to the industry, and specialises in the buying and selling of businesses in the sector

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9 Comments

  1. Property Poke In The Eye

    With Cloud based systems/voip etc most companies should be capable of working remotely.

    The last thing people would want to do is view property unless they have to.

    The positive from this whole virus issue is that businesses are looking at other ways to work and may find themselves adopting these new working practices if they prove successful.

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  2. haveathink

    Just for a sense of perspective, BBC news at 10 last night  just under 15,000 people have been tested for coronavirus in the UK,  314 have tested positive.

    In America there is around 200 cases, population 340 million.

    By all means plan, but articles like these should carry context to what the problem actually is and not act as a front for someone looking for an angle to get you to sell your business.

     

     

     

     

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    1. Client1st

      Common sense at last!

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    2. SoggyBottom

      I feel this post will not age well

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    3. Tech.Sense

      Never mind the proportionally low numbers at the moment. You overlook the alarming rate that the virus is spreading and what the total numbers will end up being ultimately. Lockdown is needed in the whole of UK NOW, as in Italy or we just fuel the peak not flatten it and risk higher mortality rates. 
      Mortality rates are looking more like 3.5% which is 35 times more deadly than flu. Add in to this how easily it transmits and the high proportion of people that end up being hospitalised, plus potential virus mutation that could occur and it does indeed become a very serious matter indeed. The herding theory is valid but we need to achieve that over a much longer time scale to allow hospitals half a chance of keeping up which could dove tail into when a vaccine becomes available. 
      It makes sense for a shorter hard shock NOW to get numbers under control rather than prolonged unmanagable pandemonium in hospotals plus of course a longer slump in business.

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  3. Anonymous Coward

    As far as I can tell this all seems to be a storm in a teacup.

    Don’t panic – do just get on with your lives.

    But having tested 15,000 people and only finding 314 positives mean that those 14,646 that were negatives remain available for infection. Although it is counter-intuitive, this result is actually not good news.

    The end result of coronavirus is inevitable – human nature and the mathematics behind viral infection make it so.

    Why do I say human nature? Because I guarantee that a whole load of people will do silly things that will make things worse. This can’t be helped.

    But for most it’ll be a bout of the snivels and a bit of a cough.

    The only problem is that we all have elderly relatives who would appear to be at greater risk.

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  4. Property Pundit

    ‘Fail to plan, plan to fail’ springs to mind.

     

    Property is a people business, more specifically, a people interaction business. An inevitable consequence is that appraisal/viewing numbers will fall. To what degree we do not yet know. These are the driving forces of property businesses. Plan home-working for staff by all means but firms really must address the potential financial impact to them most and be ready to be really stress-tested.

     

    Some variable costs such as boards, fuel expenditure, press ads, leaflets, etc can be controlled (reduced/removed) but others – staff, CRM fees, portal subscriptions – may not be possible to control. Wouldn’t it be lovely if industry suppliers helped out here by reducing/suspending regular fees until the crisis passed? I’m looking specifically at you RIGHTMOVE when I write this.

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  5. PaulC

    We are currently doing several budgets/plans.. From Zero income for 6 months to 50% income (Best Case as we see it).

    Its all but guaranteed to lead to a recession, possibly a longer term depression.

    No doubt there will be significantly fewer businesses which will knock confidence and house prices.

    GOOD NEWS though Yopa and Publebricks are completely screwed in an uncertain market.

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  6. padymagic

    I’m married to a nurse (fairly senior) and she thinks there is more to come. The experts are saying a doubling of confirmed cases every two to three days. Best to review this story next Monday, by then it should be around 1,000 if their predictions are correct. hopefully they are over estimating but keep a close watch all the same.

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