Covid-19 - a catalyst for positive change in the property market?


While it would be easy to only see the negatives, this situation will be what we make it, writes Tim Hyatt...

Written by

Tim Hyatt

Head of Residential at Knight Frank

As Head of UK Residential, Tim looks after a network of 58 offices and 1,300 people. Tim joined Knight Frank in 2003 as a Partner in charge of UK Lettings and Property Management Business, after 12 years at Foxtons. Since 2012, Tim has set up a Corporate Relocation department, Investment and Management department, Overseas Investors services and a Business Generation team. He was appointed as a Proprietary Partner in 2009 and became Head of London Residential in 2019. Tim is also a Board Director of both the CLEA (Central London Estate Agents) and of LonRes.

The impact of Covid-19 on the property sector is yet to be fully realised and it is simply too early to tell what the lasting impact will be. There are many that believe the world will be a very different place. However, what’s certain is that in spite of the tragic losses many families across the world are experiencing on a daily basis, it will be a force for change. And in many cases, indeed when it comes to action in the property market, that change will be positive.

The method in which we buy, sell and let homes across the country has long been untouched, with little alteration or adaption for decades. The short-term impact of the virus, and subsequent lockdown, saw estate agents introduce varying levels of practical changes. Knight Frank quickly readjusted its approach, sensitively tipping the balance from sales focused to an increased focus on constructive advice for our customers and support during this very uncertain time. We set about providing daily intelligence on the markets with an ambition to provide the most up to date research to all, jargon free. Virtual viewings have become available on many of our properties and we teamed up with an urgent removal company to support those in the process of moving house. Our personal finance business has also been busy helping customers navigate any mortgage or insurance enquiries.

But there is so much more to the situation we find ourselves in. While it would be easy to only see the negatives, this situation will be what we make it. Historically, be it a social, economic or a health crisis immediately thereafter arises a sense of opportunity, so why not use this time as a positive catalyst for change? Businesses up and down the country have been forced to consider how they can adapt to become more digital. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the process of buying, selling and letting the homes in which we live.

This time has pushed the bureaucratic elements of a property transaction firmly into the spotlight. The process of conveyancing and Land Registry searches are just two of a number of factors which could be greatly improved and sped up to drive efficiencies. Now is the time to be critical of the process and drag it, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. Time-consuming manual processes need to be automated and modernised, removing the reliance on pen and paper and instead focusing on the implementation of block chain, something the Land Registry has already been trialling.

This is the property sector’s opportunity to show its true colours

Questions have also been raised around compliance and client due diligence. Can real estate take inspiration from the banking sector, which has made great leaps forward in digital customer verification?

Likewise, reforms in the planning sector have long been overdue. With Covid-19 forcing Local Authority planning departments to adapt and modernise, we are seeing a move away from face-to-face meetings and the rise of virtual planning committees. There is also an opportunity here to allow officials and interested parties to explore schemes in greater detail by using 3D visualisations in augmented reality platforms. Anything that can be done to speed up the planning process will act as a driver for the wider UK economy, helping to create jobs, new housing and ultimately receipts for the treasury via increased liquidation in the market.

As one of the most traditional sectors, often guilty for being too set in its ways, this period has forced many estate agents to facilitate dynamic working across their network and has given agents the opportunity to work flexibly for the very first time. In a matter of days, we introduced remote working across our entire UK business and reviewed our customer experience strategy, adjusting to ensure we continue to add value and support our customers throughout every element of their property journey.

This is the property sector’s opportunity to show its true colours, a forward thinking and dynamic marketplace ready to embrace the digital age. Coronavirus is set to shakeup UK home buying – let’s do our part to make it for the better.