Potential house buyers urged to make virtual viewings due to Covid-19

By Claire Hayhurst, PA

Potential house buyers and renters are being urged to make virtual or drive-by viewings, and avoid estate agent offices to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

NAEA Propertymark, the UK’s leading professional body for estate agencies, said prospective clients should access information about properties online or by telephone.

It has issued a 27-point plan to businesses in the industry, advising them to offer viewings via video call or filmed 360-degree tours, particularly for the elderly.

But some estate agents say they are being instructed to continue face-to-face viewings, often in small properties and without any hand gel or cleaning wipes provided.

One estate agent at a busy firm in London, who wished to remain anonymous, told the PA news agency: “At this time, we’re still being encouraged to conduct viewings in person and only do a virtual viewing should we be unable to conduct one in person.

“We also face the problem of entering tenanted properties, where the current tenant has a contractual obligation to allow reasonable access within the last two months of their tenancy with 24 hours’ notice.

“We are being encouraged to remind tenants of their responsibility to allow access and almost forcing our way in.

“We are also running at full teams and even administrators – who can work from home – are not being allowed to.”

He said it was impossible to stay two metres away from people visiting a property and said he had not been provided with any hand gel or antibacterial wipes.

“I normally do between three to 10 viewings a day, but I’ve done two in the past week,” he said.

“It is rare for people to still want to view but a lot of people aren’t taking this seriously.”

He said it was not possible to wash his hands while showing people around a property and was concerned about the close contact, as well as touching surfaces such as door handles, light switches and keys.

Mark Hayward, chief executive of NAEA Propertymark, said it was “challenging but still possible” to safely carry out viewings.

Advice to estate agents includes asking tenants, sellers and buyers whether they have returned from an impacted area, have a high temperature or a recent dry cough or have had contact with anyone with symptoms, he said.

“You can also ask sellers to remove themselves from their property while a viewing is being conducted to limit the number of people inside,” Mr Hayward said.

“A lot of agents have video tours. We are also encouraging people, if they want to look at a property, just to drive by it.”

Mr Hayward acknowledged that for people requiring a face-to-face viewing, smaller properties were more challenging.

He said it was not possible, for example, for estate agents to let prospective renters or buyers to have “free roam” while they stood outside.

Clients should not need to go into an estate agent office as they can access information on properties online, as well as by telephone.

Those touching door handles, keys and other surfaces should use surgical gloves, Mr Hayward said.

Property inspections should be postponed where possible, though contractors may be required to go inside some homes for safety reasons such as a gas safety check, he added.