“Contingency planning is having the ability to not focus too inwardly on the immediate all the time and making sure you're aware of what's going on outside your agency,” says Tim Leffler, Head of Lettings at Ezytrac Property Group.
“My colleagues thought I was like some biblical prophet at one stage when they saw me doing contingency planning in the meeting room with post-its on the wall,” says Leffler. “You could see different colours for accounts and lettings and the maintenance team, what each needed to do if we were to go to the unthinkable - which we did: full lockdown.”
This advanced planning and the group’s “unusual” business model, using “high street agencies to contract finding tenants”, helped make the move to home-working “straightforward”.
“Our contractors advertise and, once the tenant applies, we take everything from there,” says Leffler. “We manage over 1200 properties and our property managers have large portfolios, but they're overseeing the way that things are done rather than actually physically doing it themselves.”
These large portfolios were taken into account in the planning, with Leffler recognising early on the volume of calls the agency would receive from tenants and landlords. “There's been some very steep learning curves in how to deal with tenant and landlord issues,” says Leffler. “We've had time set aside for basic counselling skills. And a huge amount of support to the staff members who’ve had to pivot. We've learned fast.”
“What we're finding now is that a call that would normally take five minutes is now taking 40 minutes to an hour. We’re soothing furrowed brows and trying to put some reality into people. We've changed from being a letting agent to almost being a counselling service,” says Leffler.
Training has always been part of the agency’s culture, meaning that staff were well prepared. “A lot of our staff members are ARLA qualified and, if not, they're in the process of taking the qualifications. We put heavy emphasis on people having a sound knowledge base and we share our experiences with each other.”
The agency’s emphasis on training doesn’t just extend to its staff, as its managing director is a “a phenomenal communicator” who shares videos regularly to keep clients in the know. “Brett Alegre-Wood has provided a lot of training for landlords, and videos to support tenants to show them where to go for assistance,” says Leffler.
Leffler says that the group will continue to set out contingency planning and training as it prepares for the future - safe in the knowledge that the agency has already successfully adapted once. “Something like this could happen again. I think there's always going to be the risk of the virus coming back to bite us again - but we can take confidence knowing that we can already adapt to operate this way.”