Estate agents should close their offices, and there should not be any in-person viewings, inspections or house moves.
That is the “view” of a senior civil servant at the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, passed on to members of Propertymark.
It is the closest to being the most definitive advice yet obtained – but there is still no official, written instruction to either sales or letting agents. A request by EYE for clarification from MHCL on whether agents’ offices should stay open and whether home moves should go ahead went unanswered yesterday.
In London, Metro has reported estate agents being among those still travelling to work on a crowded underground.
Metro named agency Dexters as having asked staff to attend work yesterday and the paper said it had seen internal memos sent to staff from CEO Jeff Doble, including one telling staff that “while staying at home is the general advice, we join a significant number of the working population who are providing important services”.
According to Metro, staff were told they can work from home ‘where possible’ but others will have to ‘juggle home and travel arrangements, health and distancing issues on top of working’.
Doble told Metro that around 50% of Dexters employees were not in work yesterday and that the firm was quickly winding down operations based on Monday night’s advice.
He added that his comments regarding a ‘lack of understanding’ were aimed at ‘outsiders’ who may not realise the work being conducted by estate agents amid the coronavirus crisis.
He said: “We have around 60,000 tenants who are worried about their rent and where they’re living. We also have a huge number of staff working on the frontline – with around 5,000 people due to move house in the next few weeks. That stuff can’t be done from home.
“We have seen a huge influx of work in recent days and we really need competent workers – not people doing a bit of work here and there at home.”
He told Metro that around a third of its branches would close last night, and that viewings were no longer being conducted.
In Fleet, Hampshire, an agent writing on a community social media site yesterday called for much clearer information.
She said that she and her colleagues had still been expected to go to work at the office. She claimed that staff were being targeted by her agency bosses on the number of calls and viewings they made in a day, and claimed that elderly sellers were being encouraged to have viewers round their properties.
She claimed: “So far, all we’ve been told to do is is to wear gloves.” She called for the Government to specify exactly which businesses can and cannot open.
Propertymark said that MHCLG is still looking into property maintenance tasks such as gas safety checks and hopes to issue guidance shortly.
However, Gas Safe Register has said that it is suspending gas safety inspections until further guidance from the Government, and is currently seeking guidance on work considered essential.
But in somewhat confused advice the organisation said yesterday that it is also seeking new guidance on the annual gas safety checks that must by law be provided for private rented properties. It does not suggest that these checks have been halted and advises landlords on what they should do if access cannot be gained for them to be made.
Meanwhile, removals firms belonging to trade body BAR have been told that, as from Monday night (March 23), they should only complete moves already started.
They should cancel or postpone other moves, BAR has told them.
However inventory trade body the Association of Independent Inventory Clerks (AIIC) last night said that its members will carry on working and will not ‘stay at home’.
Danny Zane, AIIC chair, said: “It is difficult to know if we are or will be included in the current list as an essential worker but we believe we are essential for the part of our housing market that is still carrying out move-ins. We have called on MHCLG to state whether they believe us to be essential.”