Week 3 of ‘lockdown’, and despite valuations and viewings no longer being able to take place we are adapting to home-working, successfully continuing to provide support to our 400+ clients and 2000+ tenants, many of whom are key workers, many being the heroes within our NHS.
As one would expect, sales enquiries are down to less than a handful per day. The majority of those are either people asking about where we see the market post-pandemic or ‘bargain hunters’ capitalising on anyone in urgent need of raising cash, whether to clear their current mortgage debt or to raise funds to support their businesses. Rental enquiries are also down but not to the same degree, the majority researching what will be available for them to move into post-lockdown.
We still have a number of sales in the pipeline, which we are progressing. These are mainly empty properties where the mortgage valuations and surveys were completed pre-lockdown, and where there will be no issues with social distancing on completion, for which Government has given us and the respective lawyers ‘the green light’ to continue. The sales we have agreed which are in chains, or where our client is purchasing a ‘new build’ from a developer, have effectively gone into hibernation until the ‘lockdown’ is lifted.
Over the years we have built-up a loyal team of contractors (electricians, plumbers, gas engineers, joiners, etc.) to look after the 500 or so properties we have in management. Their work is now limited to essential repairs (boiler breakdowns, blocked drains, failed electrics, etc.) but I’m pleased to say they are all continuing to look after our tenants, keeping them warm and safe, where social distancing can be maintained, in return for which we are ensuring they receive prompt payment of their invoices to support them.
I was somewhat disappointed to read yesterday that the Government’s introduction of mandatory electrical safety testing under ‘The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) 2020’ legislation is still set go ahead from 1st July this summer. Properties which have not had the electrics checked within the past 5 years will need a formal report (based on the existing Electrical Installation Condition Reports) if the property is to be relet from July onwards, or have an existing tenancy formally renewed with a new fixed term. With many tenants self-isolating or fearful of ‘unnecessary’ visitors to their homes due to the current pandemic, I had expected this legislation to be ‘kicked down the road’ until later in the year. This does not appear to be the case.
We are now seeking the co-operation of our tenants to allow our qualified electricians access to undertake these reports where we know the tenants are planning to vacate this summer and where our landlord clients are eager for us to relet the property. Where access is not being granted by tenants, all we can do is record the fact on our files and trust this offers satisfactory protection for us, and the landlord, should a catastrophic event occur before we can fulfil our obligations.
Fixed term tenancies which do not expire until after April 2021 do not need a report no, but will require one on the 1st April. This is whether the tenancy is on a fixed term or on a periodic arrangement. A report will be required on 1st April 2021 and as any works of improvement must be undertaken within 28 days of the report it would be prudent for landlords to plan ahead and not face financial penalties for non-compliance. We are anticipating a shortage of qualified electricians to undertake both reports and any consequential work, therefore we are recommending clients get on the front-foot with this, and have reports undertaken as soon as practically possible so that we plenty of time to have any works undertaken.
Despite the lockdown with little prospect of any new deals being put together over the next few weeks, as estate agents we still have lots to do. This lockdown is allowing us more time to focus on essential ‘housekeeping’. Even if we cannot undertake some reports or electrical improvements immediately, we are able to schedule the works over the coming weeks and months. This will not only mean we can work more efficiently when the lockdown is over, but our clients and tenants will know they are being looked after, and above all, kept safe.
We are obviously keeping an eye on not only the national news but also our industry news and will let you know of any changes as soon as we come across them. In the meantime, stay at home, stay safe, and save lives.