As we emerge out of the pandemic there is a growing need for agents to reflect on how the lettings business will progress in the next year or so. Clearly the market has changed irrevocably and is unlikely to return to the way it operated before coronavirus. In many ways the pandemic has accelerated many key issues impacting on the sector and brought forward change which was occurring anyway. But what will the sector look like this time next year and what do agents need to do to reflect the changing demands and new ways of operating demanded by landlords and tenants?
The growth of online services has been one of the success stories of the pandemic reflected in the enormous growth in takeaway deliveries, shopping, and all kinds of services which many might have been reluctant to use before but are now keen users of the technology. The pandemic has encouraged more people to understand that the virtual life is easy to operate, safe, convenient and, essentially, can be used at home and on the move.
Home working has changed the way in which people think about their lives. This may change as clearly many businesses will return to offices but perhaps not to the same degree or in the same way. There may be a blended form of working with so many days a week at home and so many in the office. The result is that the traditional High Street is undergoing a radical transformation which is likely to permanently alter the way our city and town centres look.
In many ways the recent mergers in the property market reflect this changing market to online as firms try to consolidate their positions through cost cutting measures. A larger firm absorbing a smaller group will have lower overall costs through administrative savings, but they will also need to close underperforming or duplicate branches in favour of the more profitable. But the bigger picture is that the High Street is undergoing major reorganisation and the need for a bricks and mortar presence is lessening as the years go by. In five years’, time will every High Street have several letting agents? I seriously doubt it.
Therefore, the model of the High Street letting agent is likely to disappear as the bricks and mortar concept is replaced by an online service available 24/7 on phones, I-pads, and laptops with access at any time of the day or night. There will be no more waiting to see a property on Monday that you first saw in a shop window on Saturday.
The majority of property transactions will be online and out of hours in the future. Over the last year we have found that half of all our transactions now occur outside the usual office hours with more people willing to view properties and agree contracts in the evening and at weekends.
Most clients are happy to view remotely, deal and discuss the property remotely, and sign the contracts remotely. We are living in a digital age and the acceptance and trust that people hold for digital transactions is now much stronger than it was even a year ago.
Having online access to all the necessary information, contracts, complaints, and payment details provides the simplest and most effective way for agents, landlords, and tenants to communicate effectively, understand any issues arising and deal with problems. Backed up by a local representative who provides face to face contact this provides the best of both worlds with 24-hour access to all the data but always with a friendly face on site when required.
The relationship between landlord, tenant and agent has also changed. The pandemic has accelerated this process and encouraged, through necessity, the need for greater communication because there have been so many major issues to resolve in a short space of time. Throughout this period this increased communication has, by necessity, been undertaken remotely and I believe that many people now accept this and are happy to continue in this way.
But technology will only take you so far. Service remains central to our business. The role of the agent has never been more important, and this year has highlighted this once more. So many landlords and tenants have been dependent upon receiving the best and most up to date advice possible. The continually changing regulatory and legislative environment means that for many landlords this has been the time when agents have proved their worth and value.
But at its heart the letting business, like any other, is about people and relationships. How we deliver remains as essential as what we deliver. The pandemic hasn’t changed that fundamental truth. This is a time when the old way of doing things probably won’t work ever again and we must all adopt flexible new systems, more effective methods of delivery, while never forgetting that people are at the heart of this business.