The road to lifting lockdown has been set in motion as the UK government outlines its three-phase plan for “reopening society”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a number of changes to current restrictions in England on Sunday (10 May), including unlimited outdoor exercise, with further amendments to be made over the coming weeks.
But what do the changes mean for estate agents?
Can estate agents go back to work?
The government has now given the green light for the housing market in England to reopen after seven weeks of lockdown.
Estate agents are now able to restart their businesses with immediate effect from Wednesday (13 May), and both renters and buys are allowed to move home and view properties.
Removal firms and conveyancers are also permitted to restart operations.
Property viewings can be carried out in person, providing social distancing guidance is followed.
The news marks a welcome change for the estimated 450,000 buyers and renters who were forced to put their plans on hold since March.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: "Our clear plan will enable people to move home safely, covering each aspect of the sales and letting process from viewings to removals.
“Our step-by-step plan is based on the latest guidance to ensure the safety and protection of everyone involved.
"This critical industry can now safely move forward, and those waiting patiently to move can now do so."
What precautions will need to be in place?
The reopening of estate agents will be subject to being able to follow the new Covid-19 Secure guidelines.
The guidelines will set out how the physical spaces of businesses will need to be adapted to operate safely, and will likely include the use of face coverings in enclosed public areas.
Such practices will ensure the risk of infection is kept as low as possible, while allowing as many people as possible to resume their livelihoods.
Under amendments to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) regulations in England, a reasonable excuse for being away from home will be expanded to include visiting estate or letting agents, viewing residential properties, preparing a residential property to move in or sell, or moving home.
Buyers, renters, sellers and estate agents will be required to take extra precautions, including maintaining a two metre distance from others during viewings.
What is the government advice for estate agents?
Estate agents are being advised to follow the latest government guidance on safe working, and are advised to inform customers and their own staff about their procedures, so they are kept safe throughout the sales process.
This is the current advice for workers in this sector:
- Agents should ask whether any party is showing symptoms or has been asked to self-isolate before going ahead with any viewing, or visits to offices.
- Agents should operate using an appointment system for visits to their offices and when conducting viewings.
- Agents should not carry out any open house viewings.
- Agents should strongly encourage clients to view properties virtually in the first instance and then only physically inspect properties which they have a strong interest in.
- Agents can accompany physical viewings and seek to maintain a minimum of 2 metres distance from others wherever possible. Where social distancing is not possible and the visit is within an enclosed space, they should consider wearing a face covering in line with government guidance.
- Where they do not accompany the visit, they should make sure that both buyers and sellers clearly understand how the viewing should be conducted safely.
- Agents should not drive clients to appointments.
- All parties viewing a property should wash their hands with soap and water (or hand sanitiser if not available) immediately after entering the properties, with internal doors opened and surfaces having been wiped down before they enter. Separate towels or paper towels should be used if possible and washed or disposed of safely after use.
- Agents should do what they can to promote flexibility when arranging move dates, for example advising clients to ensure contracts have explicit terms to manage the timing risks presented by coronavirus.
- Agents should work with their clients and other agents to broker a new date to move where sales are due to complete and one of the parties falls ill with coronavirus or has to self-isolate.
- Agents should ensure that any keys are appropriately cleaned before handover.