I’ve now had two weeks back behind my desk in Headingley, and I’m beginning to feel like some normality is returning to my work. I really don’t like face masks – they steam my glasses up! Working from home was all-well-and-good whilst everyone else was doing the same, or doing nothing whilst furloughed, but home working for this particular estate agent is just not the same as being behind my desk with all my resources at my fingertips. It may simply be the fact that at 59 I’m now one of the dinosaurs of our industry and incapable of change, but I know that when I’m in my work environment I work more effectively!

On the matter of office working, we’ve set the office up so that we can socially distance whilst sat at our desks (thank goodness we expanded our premises last year!) and we have protocols in place for moving around the building; we have a one-way system thanks to the three exits we now have; face masks have to be worn when walking around; hand sanitiser must be used when leaving and returning to desks; one person in the kitchen at any time, etc. And as for cleanliness, the offices have never sparkled so much! The essential thing is that we wanted all our staff to feel safe, and free to focus their minds on our clients and our business.

Sales got off to a flying start when we restarted viewings, despite the need for financial pre-qualifying and social distancing. Our Virtual Tours are proving very beneficial, with far fewer people needing to undertake face-to-face viewings when doing their research or to eliminate a property from their ‘possible’ list. The videos take a while to shoot and edit, but we felt the investment worthwhile if it was going to help reduce the likely spread of Coronavirus. As it turns out, there were additional benefits we’d not expected!

We’ve had 6028 people watch our Virtual Tours since we started shooting them on 21st May. This is an average of 194 viewings per day to-date. There would have been no physical means of us conducting that number of viewings per day whilst some of our staff are still on furlough or working from home. This has had a major impact on our stats, which look very, very, different from last year. We took 38 offers between 1st and 20th June 2020, following 47 face-to-face viewings. Last year we generated 20 offers from 91 viewings in the same 20-day period! Last year we were undertaking ‘Open to View’ sessions/group viewings.  This year we’re having to do individual viewings due to the pandemic under the Government Regulations. But the conversion rate of 81% of the viewings leading to an offer this year compared to 22% last year is a real success story.

Rentals has also seen a substantial but unintended improvement in efficiency. 51 viewings from 1st June to the 20th June this year have resulted in 22 lets being agreed (43%). That compares to 215 viewings being undertaken in the same period last year, which produced 33 agreed lettings (15.3%). A substantial number of tenants are pre-qualifying our properties via the Virtual Tours, resulting in only those genuinely interested in the properties booking and attending a face-to-face viewing.

I am very relieved to say that to date we haven’t seen any significant increase in tenants falling into rent arrears, due to the pandemic. The number of properties in rent arrears of more than one month is still below 1.5% of our stock. Furlough may be delaying a possible future problem with rent arrears, especially if there are significant job losses ahead. But we’ve been in touch with many of our 1000+ tenants over the lockdown period and the majority seem confident that their employment is secure. A number are telling us they may have to face the reality that home-working may become the norm, and these tenants are considering a move to a slightly larger property to accommodate their working needs e.g. home office rather than the dining table! But we’re happy to accommodate their move if possible, as retaining quality tenants is paramount to efficient and profitable property management, for all concerned.

I’m keeping a watchful eye on both the sale and rental markets, as things are changing week by week (sometimes day by day!) but for now the north Leeds property market looks robust and hopefully we will weather the Coronavirus ‘storm’.