Thousands of agents have been sent home in what has become the new norm. Some are still working but many are not – furloughed under the Government’s coronavirus job retention scheme – and all over Britain branches are shut.
Furloughed status is intended to mean that under the coronavirus job retention scheme, staff are at home but not working. Unlike being laid off, furloughed staff are able to return to their jobs. Under the scheme employers would be able to reclaim 80% of their pay, up to £2,500 a month, during the furlough period and funded out of the public purse.
However, little is really known of the furlough scheme and how it will work. One agency executive told EYE: “It is extraordinary that it is being so widely used when none of us understand it.”
Those who have been furloughed include agency staff who were made redundant earlier this month before the scheme was announced.
Their status has now been changed, with the hope that they can return to their jobs when circumstances allow. The scheme lasts until the end of May. Further details of the scheme are due to be released today.
Not all agents are using the government scheme – for example, LSL is not.
Staff in some property firms have lost their jobs, while others have been placed on leave, including unpaid leave, and some agency branches look very unlikely to reopen. We have heard of smaller independents with several branches, who believe they will reopen with only one.
So, what are agents doing?
Foxtons is using the government scheme. Arguably Britain’s best known agent, it has shut all 60 or so of its branches, right across London.
A spokesperson said yesterday that despite this, Foxtons remains open for business. It has introduced virtual live-streamed and recorded valuations and viewings, and customers still have access to the My Foxtons platform.
The spokesperson added: “The closure of our branches does mean we made the difficult decision to furlough a number of employees across the business. We are confident this is the best way we can protect jobs and the business in the long term.”
Connells Group has made no redundancies and is maintaining staff pay at 100% throughout April.
Yesterday a spokesperson said that all branches are closed and the company is making full use of the government scheme.
The spokesperson said: “Connells Group has not made any redundancies or branch closures other than the temporary, required closures. We have a strong balance sheet, no debt and we are confident that we will emerge from this storm intact.
“We must thank and commend all our people, whom we are incredibly proud of, and their extraordinary efforts during this unsettling time. Connells Group has worked through many tough times before and we will rise to the challenge again.”
The Acorn Group with 36 branches in the south-east and operates out of a total of 40 buildings has so far put 250 of its 400 staff on ‘furlough’ leave.
Acorn CEO Rob Sargent says that those who have been furloughed are in the front line – responsible for viewings, valuations and negotiations – where public demand for such services is currently on hold.
He anticipates that up to three-quarters of Acorn staff will shortly be on furlough.
Sargent said: “No one has been made redundant or laid off, and it is not part of our strategy to do that.” He hopes that all staff will be able to return to work at some point.
The remaining staff meanwhile have stayed in their roles, helping with admin, accounts and other essential tasks, and to ensure that people in the 5,000 managed tenancies remain looked after.
Sargent said: “This is not about income or making money, but simply ensuring that we deliver our obligations of health and safety for our tenants.”
All premises in The Acorn Group are shut to the public. The staff who remain working are mainly doing so from home but where necessary, are individually or in very small numbers accessing branches, for example to obtain records.
The 7,000 sq ft head office is also closed to the public and, says Sargent, has some four or five people working in it.
At LSL whose brands include Reeds Rains, Marsh & Parsons, and Your Move – which came in for criticism after some staff went into their offices for work the morning following the Prime Minister’s ‘stay at home’ statement – all branches are now closed. No staff have been furloughed.
A spokesperson told us yesterday afternoon: “We are continuing to follow government guidelines and advice, and branches are now closed with staff working from home.
“Managers have been instructed to only enter the branch, alone, in the event of an emergency.
“No staff have been put on leave or furloughed.”
The Leaders Romans Group has closed all offices and furloughed numbers of staff. It said that a number of virtual valuations and viewings are still taking place, and that it is seeing more postponements of deals than fall-throughs.
Online agent Purplebricks is still fully operational for business, a spokesperson confirmed, although it has shut its call centre.
People working in it were moved to home working over a week ago.
All the local agents were already home based, necessitating no change in working practices, other than that they have moved to video for valuations and viewings.
Technology being deployed includes WhatsApp, FaceTime, Zoom, Duo and Hangouts.