Non-essential businesses and premises are now closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), so it's crucial that letting agencies have the right systems and processes in place to maintain business continuity with a remote workforce. The lettings industry has proven been very resilient in previous periods of financial crisis, so it’s important that agents take steps to preserve their existing portfolio and, perhaps, even take some time to think strategically about their agency’s future when the pandemic subsides.
You and your team should all be working from home. You’ll need to make sure that everyone has a good internet connection, the proper equipment - including laptops, mobile phones, conferencing technology - and that they’re able to access all the systems and data they’ll need to complete their job as if you were operating business as usual. Remember that you still have a duty of care to your employees, even when they’re working from home.
A fifth of the workforce could be sick at any one time as a result of the coronavirus, according to the government, so it is important you have processes in place to manage higher than normal absences. Make sure multiple people in your team know how to carry out key tasks for business continuity, such as payments to your landlords, to reduce risk should key people be away at the same time. ARLA Propertymark suggests holding a morning meeting remotely to ensure you’re aware of any potential concerns in your team, considering the circumstances of individual team members in relation to caring responsibilities, and ensuring that you have contact details for all staff so that you can update them as to any emerging developments.
Check your insurance policies to understand your coverage. ARLA Propertymark also advises agencies to check their contracts with suppliers and contractors, including referencing agencies, technology providers, board and signage contractors, inventory providers, and talk to them, if possible, so that both parties understand the potential impact of disruption. Your agency might also be eligible for financial assistance from the government, including statutory sick pay relief and small business grants.
In a post-Tenant Fees Act world, letting agencies should be able to survive - at least temporarily - on the back book they’ve built up, rather than relying on new transactions. This means that the most impactful thing you can do now is ensure that you’re preserving your active tenancies. Focus on progressing your existing deals. Keep up regular communications with tenants and landlords so they’re aware of your plans. Take the opportunity to call your landlords and talk to them about their concerns for their investment and what you’re doing to alleviate these. Share information about available financial support with tenants, which could help them to keep paying their rent during this time.
If you’re working from home, you’ll likely have a bit of extra time on your hands without the distractions of the office. Think about projects that will help you cope with growth in the not-too-distant future and look at ways you scale your business for what could be the biggest peak you've ever seen. Make sure you’re prepared for upcoming legislation changes, evaluate your existing suppliers and complete staff training and education. Once the pandemic subsides, the lettings market will likely be as competitive as ever, so consider what you can do to defend your patch - strengthen your relationships with landlords, improve your marketing and messaging and reinforce your web presence by reviewing your website and social media accounts.
Oh Goodlord Limited is an Appointed Representative of Goodlord Protect Limited for general insurance products and credit broking. Goodlord Protect Limited is directly authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority, registration number 836727. You can check this information on the Financial Services Register by visiting www.fca.org.uk/register or by telephoning 0800 111 6768 (Freephone) or 0300 500 8082 from the UK. The FCA is the independent watchdog that regulates financial services.