Recent surveys have suggested the UK's lettings and housing market is getting close to being business as usual, if not now, then certainly in the coming months. Supporting that is the news that some 58% of agencies having opened their physical doors over a month after the Government said they could begin work again. However, while some expect to be fully operational at some point during July, a small proportion anticipate they will still have some employees on furlough in October.
According to the latest survey from The Property Redress Scheme, although the UK’s housing and lettings market is active, updates from agencies suggest all is not quite as busy as usual, as a variety of details mean they aren’t yet able to be fully operational.
Mixed Recovery Expectations
The ‘Back to Work’ letting agent report asked a number of important questions, generating an interesting mix of results. While lettings market activity is expected to increase from the end of the summer and throughout much of the second half of the year, right now, many letting and estate agencies are still not back to their ‘usual’ working hours and practices.
The survey shows that some 42% of estate/letting agencies have yet to open their physical offices, while 69% of respondents said they anticipate using the government’s furlough scheme into July and a small proportion, 13% said they could still have some staff on furlough in October.
Tellingly, agents collectively said that one of their main concerns was the ability for their agency to generate enough income from the market to bring all their staff back from furlough. This comes amid two specific developments:
- Some tenants continue to struggle to pay their rent amid job losses or returning to work fewer hours and earning less as a result.
- Others are choosing to remain in their existing rental home rather than opting to move as uncertainty around Covid-19 is set to extend beyond into the second half of 2020.
“As we move forwards, our survey reveals that many agents are worried about how to stay connected to their customers and, understandably, whether the market will bounce back post COVID-19,” said Sean Hooker, Head of Redress at the Property Redress Scheme.
Agencies Embrace Technology
Although fears about the recovery of the lettings market remain, the lockdown and period of easing has encouraged the lettings industry to embrace technology. Without online viewings and electronic signatures, its likely business and the recovery would have been even slower.
Indeed, the survey highlights that although three-quarters of agencies are currently planning to revert to their typical opening hours, many will continue to make use of some of the methods they adopted during lockdown.
Of the respondents, 65% said they would continue to offer flexible working, including work-from home options for their staff. Looking at virtual viewings, prior to the pandemic just 20% of agencies said they offered them, however, 70% said they will provide a mixture of physical and virtual viewings post the pandemic. Meanwhile, around 54% of agents used and accepted e-signatures to complete contracts before the coronavirus-imposed lockdown and now, 77% said they intend to use them going forward.
While it’s clear the industry has struggled and that, along with much of the broader economy, will experience a tough recovery, technology has certainly proved effective among many of those letting and estate agencies who didn’t previously utilise it.
Overall, the report shows that while the lettings industry is in a recovery phase, there remains a big question mark over just how long that period will last. The industry’s ability to adapt and use new options to keep working is a definite positive. However, worries that weakened consumer confidence and a lack of new rental properties becoming available to rent are set to remain for some time.