First ‘virtual’ house sale


Images above: Paul Cooney on a house visit yesterday; his photographer

Estate agents are gearing up to go back to work, having been given the nod by government this week. Some aren’t yet answering the phone; some are still working out the logistics of how to reopen safely, busy doing risk assessments; others have already been thinking creatively about how to do their job.

Andrew Nunn told me he was cautious about exposing his staff and the public to each other. His office reopens on Monday. Paul Cooney, of Horton & Garton, thinks he has made the first ‘virtual’ sale, ie. going through the whole process of valuation, marketing and sale (agreed, subject to contract) without either himself or the buyer setting foot in the house in Magnolia Rd. Both said the level of interest from potential tenants and buyers was very high indeed.

Paul has what he describes as a six step plan, whereby he first of all does a virtual valuation, getting the home owner to walk around their property showing it to him on their phone. Step two is to send a photographer round with a very expensive camera to make a professional video and an accurate floor plan. Step three a paperless exchange of all the relevant documents. Steps four and five, marketing and arranging virtual viewings. Step six, the sale.

Now that he is able to, he’s started visiting in person, kitted out with a face mask, gloves and shoe coverings, giving clients the choice of a personal or a virtual visit. Surveyors are also now allowed to visit, suitably attired. The Government has set out detailed guidelines as to how they should conduct themselves, which you can see here. These are for anyone moving between private residential homes.

He’s not been in to his own office for the past few weeks. The shared office space at Gable House, above Starbucks and Patisserie Valerie on the High Rd, which normally houses 25 companies, is not yet ready for the occupants to return. For the past six weeks the market has been “full tumbleweed”, he told me, but when he put the Magnolia Rd house on the market, he had 44 buyer inquiries and multiple bids. You can take the virtual tour here, should you be interested in seeing it.

“There is so much pent up demand” he told me. “Before the pandemic we had three and a half years of Brexit, then we had the ‘Boris bounce’, a couple of good months and then the pandemic hit”.

Images above: Properties currently on the market with Andrew Nunn

Tenants and buyers “desperate” to get out and buy

The spring market is always buoyant. Andrew Nunn agreed, what they need badly is sellers.

“People have saved more in the past five years that at any other time I can remember” he told me. “Combine several years of people not spending their bonuses and how cheap it is to borrow money at the moment. It’s bizarre how desperate tenants and buyers are to get out there and look”.

A bit of it will be just restlessness and boredom, he said, but there are people with the money to spend who now want to get on with moving.

Andrew, who has been in the estate agents business in London for 34 years, and runs his own company, is responsible for making sure his staff are safe in the office as well as while they’re out visiting properties.

“We have protocols and procedures to put in place before I expose my staff and the public to each other” he told me.

They are lucky that they have quite a big office, with five people in it whose desks are well spaced. They will only let anyone else into their workspace by appointment. He’s also told his staff that he’s willing to buy them a bike or a scooter to get to work, rather than have to take public transport.

“We’re not showing the property of anyone who has been self-isolating for three weeks, or who is vulnerable, and we’re not allowed to take people from one address to another by car”.

There’s a complicated dance to be done about how many people can be in a property. They will only take a maximum of two people into a house at one time, and they will ask the visitors to wear masks and gloves and put covers on their shoes, or take their shoes off before they enter. Visitors aren’t allowed to touch anything. They will ask the tenant or the householder to go out. I would want to stay and make sure they didn’t touch anything, I told him.

“Yes, but depending how many people there are in the household, you could end up with six people potentially in quite a small place.

“To be honest, we’ll have to suck it and see”.

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