Posted Wednesday, April 29, 2020
The property sector has had a challenging few years, but who could have imagined that in the midst of the Cladding Crisis, Covid-19 would come knocking on our doors? In this blog, we focus on how lock-down has affected us as managing agents, our staff, those on the ground, and most of all, our residents and clients, all trying to look after their health, home, and investment.
Is it necessary?
Everyone around the globe will agree these most definitely are the most unusual of times, but property management is still a necessary commodity; more so now than ever before. It is vital that we, as managing agents, keep the communal spaces around people’s homes clean and safe, not just for health reasons but for the wellbeing of those whose only link with the outside is the view from their window. Those unable to get out do not want to look onto messy unkept green areas and overflowing bins.
Keep calm - keep managing
The government has been clear from the outset that during these troubling times, building maintenance must continue, especially regarding Health & Safety and lifesaving equipment. Homeowners and residents will undoubtedly thank us for prioritising matters, such as the basic running of the building during lock-down, as well as saving costs on matters or non-urgent major works that can be deferred.
The Cladding Crisis is still on the horizon
We have not relaxed our efforts to assist those living the cladding nightmare. Taking the foot off the pedal now simply isn’t an option, and we’re doing all that we can to ensure that required surveys of external cladding systems are carried out and worried homeowners remain informed and are provided with the best advice. Projects currently in progress, such as cladding replacement and fire safety, will go ahead where possible.
How are we managing?
Overall, we are running services as close to ‘business as usual’ as we can. We acted extremely quickly to implement remote office set-up for all staff whose role meant they could work from home, enabled by a full IT support system and kit. We have been able to maintain service levels; all be it from more locations across England & Wales. Where developments have site staff, we are keeping in touch with them on a regular basis to provide them with support and essential PPE where necessary and reviewing their duties on a regular basis. Resident meetings are being carried out via Zoom. We remain committed to continuing with essential maintenance and to the safety of our site staff.
I think people are embracing and seeing certain benefits to working from home, and I can see where some businesses may adopt it permanently. Having this enforced trial period, we find it works, we are still able to deal with most day to day requirements and our clients and customers are adjusting well to things that are not able to be carried out immediately. Resuming social interactions such as having onsite staff and contractors in closer proximity than they are currently used to maybe an initial concern to residents after the lock-down period is lifted, and we will make sure our onsite staff are sensitive to this future adjustment period.
With contractor management; where we have a service provider (such as cleaners) who cannot continue due to self-isolating we are placing temporary contracts with other companies as these services are especially required during this pandemic. With other onsite services such as gardening, as long as they adhere to the social distancing guidelines they are permitted to continue to work.
Recent guidelines on First Tier Tribunals (FFT) and major works consultations mean that we are unable to carry out internal property inspections for at least 6 months, or until government advice changes. However, where major works could be completed, these need to be carefully considered, as many residents may not want to be living with noise and disruption whilst in lock-down. We are looking at reserve funds to determine whether delaying projects is feasible, and consulting with residents to provide the best option for them.
Closure of various court offices is raising problems with serving proceedings, and generally slowing the progress of disputes, though some courts have trialed video-conferencing techniques.
There is also the problem of completing property documents (such as leases and land transfers), which still generally require a “wet” signature. The Land Registry envisaged documents being completed with electronic signatures back in 2006, but they are still not satisfied that adequate arrangements are in place for widescale adoption. The area of re-mortgaging is being used as a pilot for introducing and assessing the technology, and the Land Registry hopes to have digitised 95% of all daily transactions by 2022.
Helping to re-build residents’ welfare
Once the crisis is over we will be looking to provide opportunities for residents whose personal business has been affected, to give it a bit of a boost. Residents offering services such as childminding, or mobile hairdressing that were effectively shut down - not able to be provided whilst social distancing is in place will be keen to restart as soon as government restrictions are lifted. Some useful services could be promoted to their community via the resident website, helping people to get back on their feet again.
We’re aware that people’s spirits will also need to be revived, and we can assist this as well, through the organisation of community events, all be it online to start with via video platforms but later on, as the lockdown lifts we can rebuild the community via outdoor events and activities.
Supporting the housebuilding industry
We work with the 8 out of the 10 top UK developers, so for our developer clients, we have kept the business running smoothly to ensure continued services to sales offices, including processing sales and budget packs on demand. There’s a lot of discomfort in the sales market, with many house moves being abandoned, so having in-house onboarding, accounts, legal, marketing, and H&S teams ensures we can immediately offer informed help and advice to our clients and customers on request.
Looking ahead, there will be a lot of uncertainty within property sales and most likely the rental market will be the first to pick up as many are unable to keep up mortgage payments. As Elizabeth Kohlbach (Chief Executive of Swire) mentions in Property Week Magazine; "It is estimated that an additional 560,000 households are expected to be in private rented accommodation by 2023".The current bias towards leniency may continue, with fewer legal restrictions and a focus on the bigger picture – getting things done.
Getting things done is certainly something we will continue to do.
What’s your experience with these challenging times?
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