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