Zoopla, the property portal, says that consumer demand is up 130pc compared to the last four weeks, while Jonathan Cunliffe, who sells dream beachfront homes in the priciest areas of Cornwall, says that inquiries have been rising for the last three weeks. The Government has calculated that the moves of 450,000 buyers and renters were interrupted by lockdown.
But the industry – which enjoys little regulation or oversight and a reputation for rogue operators – will have to balance the huge demand that has built up since lockdown began with the need for safety.
It’s a unique sector because staff go into people’s homes, an intimate space that has become a battleground for an invisible virus. Agents will have to police themselves, as well as all parties involved – something that perhaps does not come naturally to an industry with little barrier to entry.
“I understand the government’s position in reopening, but now we have to rely on the competence of agents, and put people over profit, protecting the health and safety of staff,” says Becky Fatemi of luxury London estate agency Rokstone. She has been doing essential viewings during lockdown wearing full PPE, including a face visor. “I’m excited we have opened up; there’s a backlog, but it’s a real social responsibility.”
The worry is that the desperate need for commission and clients will force beleaguered estate agents to break the rules. “I hope some agents don’t go all gung-ho and promise the client everything,” adds Fatemi. As a case in point, she had spent the morning on the phone arguing with a potential buyer who had insisted that she had to take them on a viewing.
The sudden nature of the opening of the market means that many agents are unprepared for both installing safety measures in their offices, and getting hold of crucial PPE needed for viewings. Among the biggest estate agency chains, most are opening and booking in viewings for the next few days, rather than straight away.