Opinion: Change is happening in our industry – what is the future?

Latest Government advice forces estate agency rethink

Just weeks after returning to our branches, the Government is asking us to reconsider whether this is essential and whether we can work from home instead.

In his latest address to the nation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson abandoned his plans to get everyone to return to the workplace and asked office workers who can work from home to do so.

But what does this mean for estate agency? Are we expected to shut our high street branches overnight? Or is there an understanding that those who can work safely, albeit wearing face masks, can do so in branch, particularly if their mental health or personal relationships are at risk through staying at home?

For many people, the coronavirus pandemic has been tragic, whether people have lost loved ones, or suffered major issues from being in close confines or leaving people lonely and depressed, without human contact. Working from home has caused mixed blessings.

There’s no doubt it’s an extremely stressful time, in fact like no other that I’ve known in my  lifetime. At the same time, we’re all dealing with a massive surge in sales, as customers embrace the stamp duty holiday and get deals done before the end of March deadline.

One of the things we did during the first lockdown was set up a confidential helpline through an independent provider and people have told us they’ve been using it and finding it beneficial.

Ultimately, there is only one thing that matters. And that is keeping everyone safe. Whether it is our staff, families, customers or suppliers, we are heading into a second wave and we need to think carefully about the best way to operate in these current circumstances.

We need to come together as an industry and do what’s best for everyone. Until someone produces a vaccine, we’re all in danger. The longer this pandemic goes on, there’s no doubt that everyone’s estate agency business is at risk too.

Planning law change impacts business sale prices

With all the focus on coronavirus, it will have escaped some people’s attention that there has been a change in the planning law that affects estate agents.

Previously, only a small number of businesses in the high street would be allowed to have A2 planning use – which some estate agencies used to bump up their prices as part of their bargaining chip when selling.

However, as of 1 September 2020, new Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) rules have come into effect, as part of the government’s ‘Project Speed’ initiative. This aims to support the revival of the high street by allowing greater flexibility within town centres without the need for express planning permission.

Now businesses in A2, along with some other classes, have been subsumed into a new category, Class E, which covers commercial, business and the service sector, including retail, restaurants, offices, financial and professional services and more, along with ‘any other services which it is appropriate to provide in a commercial, business or service locality’.

This means that the rules around what premises can be used for are far more relaxed and flexible. It’s worth contacting a planning consultant if you want to find out more.

What does the future of the industry look like?

There’s a big question mark hanging over the future of the industry – and whether you even need any branches in the high street right now.

Judging by the 1,500 job applications a week we are receiving for our new Partners scheme, where people get the benefits of a full-time job working from home, it’s certainly an appealing proposition from my perspective to be able to offer both.

The one thing I would say to anyone thinking of going self-employed right now is ‘don’t do it!’. Unless the coronavirus job retention scheme is extended, or without a redundancy package to fall back on if you have less than two year’s graft on your CV with your current company, you’ll be left high and dry, with little income to pay your bills.

If you have made the decision to go self-employed, I wouldn’t boast about your sales on social media either. Just remember that HMRC are watching.

There’s a major reshaping of the industry under way. It’s going to look completely different in a year’s time, mark my words. The question is ‘Are you prepared to change’? Where do you see your future?

 

Paul Smith is CEO of independent estate agency chain Spicerhaart

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9 Comments

  1. Ostrich17

    “I wouldn’t boast about your sales on social media either. Just remember that HMRC are watching.”

     

    What exactly is the CEO of Spicerhaart trying to say here?

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    1. Alan

      I’m sure he means don’t exaggerate your sales on social media. You may then have an issue trying to convince HMRC that you only sold 12 houses this year when you’re boasting about hundreds of satisfied customers.

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  2. AlwaysAnAgent

    This disjointed article doesn’t make any sense. Boris hasn’t said estate agents need to close.

    If course it’s sensible to keep ourselves and our staff as safe as possible but this, as a message, is six months old. Slightly more PPE in some circumstances may be needed and the rest is common sense.

     

    i hope the author’s strategy to let some people work from home long term is successful, but it isn’t a strategy per se.

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  3. Mrlondon52

    Not very insightful about the future of the industry. And less controversial than normal. Perhaps after spending a few years slagging off the competition, then being caught napping and having to make his own staff redundant, Mr Smith is actually experiencing a little bit of contrition and humility. Perhaps.

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  4. Hillofwad71

    “Ultimately, there is only one thing that matters. And that is keeping everyone safe. ”
     
    Well it seems the only thing that mattered  back in March for Paul Smith  before anyone was aware of the long term  outcome of the crisis was immediately  to cut jobs  making life very much unsafe  for some of his employees
     
      “The one thing I would say to anyone thinking of going self-employed right now is ‘don’t do it!”
     
      Some of course have been left with little choice ! but disagree -an opportunity for some especially those who can carry with them a portfolio of property management clients  to start out . Many success stories have started in challenging times .
     
    In addition opportunities to acquire  business or inventory on advantageous terms appear .There is never a right time For others Necessity is the mother of invention  
    Just ask the  2 ladies who recently left Hamptons to start Whitaker Seagar in Gloucestershire who  already  have a decent sales inventory
     
     
     

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  5. Woodentop

    There’s a major reshaping of the industry under way. It’s going to look completely different in a year’s time, mark my words. The question is ‘Are you prepared to change’? Where do you see your future?

     

    Duly marked. Pray tell all Oracle. Then tell me what has really changed over the last few decades, other than how we advertise.

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  6. Tornado

    It seems that Paul Smith now can’t make any comment without people wanting to drag up the past for which he has already been heavily criticised. The hard facts are that Spicerhaart now seem to be growing and making some fantastic appointments. I’m not hearing of many other companies talking about this type of ambition. I am hearing a lot from the Self Employed models stressing how much money can be generated but when I actually talk to people within these businesses the reality does seem to be very different for the large majority who are having to work ridiculous hours just to earn a fraction of what they were told they could. I am not sure how attractive that is to people in the real world. I wish the SE models would be more transparent than they are as I feel they are misleading so many. I can’t disagree with much of the content here at all.

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    1. Joseph60

      It rather seems like a plug, and a bit of shameless advertising, disguised as a news article, for all the new positions they have available. Bit of a kick in the teeth for those made redundant with no notice only 5 months ago. As big a risk joining them as taking a self employed role I would say.

       

      Each to their own.

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  7. Will123

    Interesting view on the high street here Mr Smith, bigger offices premises could become available, is this a direction of travel for the property centers of which you have spoken previously?

    I think Mr Smith was caught as the private, single owner of a large private company at the start of an unknown pandemic where the possible outcomes were unfathomable – I wonder how many others who comment on here would have had the nerve to wait and see until the money runs out!? Sometimes I suppose a difficult choice has to be taken to protect the many, which it would appear Spicerhaart have done – I also hear of many returners from their probationers who were let go – not all bad news I suppose here.

    Self employed models are available in many industries, they are suited only to a certain type of character in my opinion, you must have the balls and the backing (financial) personally. I have met many Estate agents, and not many of them have too much saved for a rainy day, which i think prohibits that model for many. Many others do not wish to “go it alone” – there will always be a few who do and all power to them!

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