Picture: Tony Clarke, managing director Rawson Property Group; Paul Stevens, CEO Just Property; Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO RE/MAX of Southern Africa.
Health and safety are major concerns for all property practitioners during the Covid-19 pandemic. Social distancing, face masks and constant sanitizing are not enough. Property leaders share practical advice on the right safety protocols to keep clients and estate agents safe.
The best way to stay safe during the viral pandemic is to stay home however most businesses can’t afford to stay shut any longer, so have reopened subject to strict safety protocols. The same applies for the real estate sector.
Most of South Africa’s top agencies have all confirmed having implemented Covid-19 Workplace plans in their offices. Rawson Property Group managing director Tony Clarke says they’ve been engaged in a lot of discussion around ways to implement social distancing and stringent hygiene protocol during all real estate activities and transactions under Alert Level 3. Their safety protocols have now been adopted by REBOSA as the industry standard. “We urge all our fellow real estate professionals to implement them in their own businesses,” advises Clarke.
Download the REBOSA Covid-19 Workplace Readiness Guidelines here
What has been the reaction from buyers?
The general feedback from estate agencies is that buyers and sellers have been very understanding towards the ‘new way’ of buying or selling a home. For instance virtual home tours are proving to be very popular. “Physical viewings are still (and always will be for the vast majority of people) a critical part of the property-buying process but virtual tours help to bridge the gap between buyer interest and intent,” says Paul Stevens, CEO Just Property. He says they’ve had an incredibly positive response from buyers to their virtual property listings. “It looks more professional to sellers and allows potential buyers an opportunity to get a better “feel” for the flow of a property,” he says.
Clarke says for some clients it was the first time to view a property virtually and their feedback was that they felt that their experience couldn’t get closer to ‘real’ than what they had just experienced.
However, implementing a more rigorous pre-screening process has been more challenging. “Implementing this is not always easy as clients may be offended or intimidated by this more rigorous approach and agents fear losing clients to less discerning agents,” says Stevens.
Stevens adds that they have also made getting explicit consent from inhabitants to allow third-party access to properties a critical part of their viewing protocols and that is why it has been integrated into their Online Risk Assessment tool. The requirement for consent to view a property has caused complications e.g. where a tenant refuses access for buyers or new tenants to view. “We have worked closely with our external legal advisors to navigate each scenario that we are presented with to ensure we are firm but fair,” he says.
Agents have also been forced to be creative and find alternative ways to build a relationship of trust with their clients. For example, due to the need to keep a physical distance, estate agents can’t have conversations with buyers while driving them to properties to view anymore. A different space for these conversations has to be created says Stevens.
Bruce Swain, CEO Leapfrog, says for the first time in a long time they are seeing a more serious and dedicated buyer’s market. “Almost as if there’s a ‘pent-up’ buyer’s situation, which is both positive and encouraging. The overwhelming feedback from our agents is that they are very comfortable to work virtually and clients are happy to do the same.”
The world has changed
Modern real estate is actually very well equipped to operate with minimal face-to-face engagement, making it one of the easier industries in which to prevent potential virus transmission, says Clarke. “We have to accept that the world has changed and will never be the same again, thanks to Covid, this also applies to our industry and the way we market property,” he says.
Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO RE/MAX Southern Africa agrees saying he believes real estate transactions will look a little different for the time being. The fact of the matter is the Covid-19 threat will be around for a while and then there is the possibility that it could be followed up by another new viral infection. Clarke believes sellers will start insisting that estate agents use digital tools to market their homes rather than open it up to large volumes of people who might contaminate their space. “We have to learn to adapt and thrive under these circumstances,” he says.
This is a summary of the most important safety measures that estate agencies should have in place.
Online marketing: Virtual tours through video or photo galleries give buyers a good initial impression of a home. No show houses are permitted.
Meeting the buyer: Initial meetings are done as far as possible via telephone or digital communications (video call, email, voice call). If a person shows real interest in a property, a more rigorous pre-screening process is implemented to determine if the person can afford the property. Limit risk of exposure to the virus through use of a risk assessment process such as a set of questions on the buyer’s recent where abouts and persons he/she has been exposed to.
Physical viewings: Physical viewings are only done by appointment and with the consent of the seller/landlord. Disclose the safety protocols to the seller/landlord and obtain written consent for the physical viewing to take place. Limit the persons on a viewing to the agent and one buyer/tenant with one person. Inform the buyer/tenant prior to a viewing that strict adherence to safety protocols such as face masks, no touching of surfaces, hand sanitizer etc are required or entrance to the property may be refused.
Allowing third parties access to a property: Agents arrange access strictly by appointment and with consent of the seller for third parties such as the valuer, building inspector, engineer. Parties must follow health and safety protocols such as wearing a face mask, keeping a distance of 1.5m, etc.
Signing of contracts: Digital signing software is available to conclude mandates and lease agreements. However, physical signatures are still required to conclude offers to sell property.
Key handovers/inspections: Agents have to improvise, for instance they can arrange that keys be left in neutral, safe spaces for collection and occupants wait outside while home inspection takes place. Agents will sanitize all surfaces they touch once the inspection is over and also the keys.
Agents and clients will need to work together like never before to make sure property needs are met efficiently, conveniently and safely. To achieve this open and regular communication is key. One way to do this is through educational videos and animations to explain the new way of doing things – these can be distributed via social media (WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter) and email. Stevens says they have used this and found that “the more we tell people about our ways of working, the more it becomes normal.”
The safety measures are put in place to protect everyone involved in the transaction says Goslett. “Provided these measures are followed, the process of buying and selling homes presents very low risk to buyers, sellers and agents.”
(You are welcome to give your feedback about the ‘new way’ of buying a home and also share innovative strategies that have been successful. Email email@example.com. Editor.)