Each month, we take 5 minutes to ask a lettings industry expert 5 things. This month we are lucky enough to be talking to Yasser Elkaffass, Managing Director of London multi-award winning Estate Agents Adam Hayes.

Q. Hi Yasser. Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to us today. So firstly, under these rather unsettling circumstances I have to ask… how are you doing? How has this current situation and lockdown affected you and your business?

A. We are doing OK thank you. It’s a tough time for most people right now but unlike so many others, we are fortunate enough to have the capabilities to work from home. Obviously our duties are restricted due to the lockdown. We’re not able to go out and show properties of course – but we have our wonderful online Virtual Tours which are incredibly popular with both potential buyers and tenants. We are also arranging Virtual Valuations where we meet landlords and sellers through the phone and get to see their properties “virtually”.

Q. Amazing! And I’m glad to hear you’re following the rules… which is more than can be said for some! Did you hear about that BBC News investigation? The Airbnb one? Basically the BBC has just exposed certain Airbnb hosts (and I think some other short let platform users as well) as going against lockdown regulations. Apparently they were caught advertising their properties as “Covid-19 retreats” and “perfect for isolating with family” in the countryside – despite Coronavirus regulations stressing that holiday accommodation should be provided only to keyworkers who needed to self-isolate. They’re now saying that government fines of up to £960 could be issued in cases like these. What are your thoughts on this? Fair?

A. Well I haven’t actually seen that particular BBC investigation but this seems absurd! Some people will naturally try and profit in these tough times I guess – I mean we’ve all heard stories about shopkeepers charging extortionate prices for hand sanitizer for example! But I really think we all need to wake up and look at the bigger picture here. This is a global Pandemic – and thousands of people are losing their lives! As members of society, we need to understand that staying home saves lives and I totally agree that the government should fine people for breaking the rules.

Q. Yes I agree. I think tougher measures are going to be taken all the time if people don’t comply. It’s such a difficult time for so many people right now though isn’t it? Not just emotionally, but financially as well. Which brings me to my next question actually. Some groups have called for struggling tenants, and students in particular, to be given time rent-free during this pandemic. What’s your opinion on this? It’s a tricky one isn’t it? Because this would surely place some landlords in an impossible financial situation?

A. You are right- it is a real tricky one. Most students who pass references, would usually have a guarantor so it shouldn’t make too much of a difference whether the students are employed or not. Most landlords don’t have multiple properties and their 2nd home is usually a source of income that they rely on. These landlords still usually have a mortgage to pay so I don’t believe it’s fair to just wipe a tenant’s debt to the detriment of a landlord. I think the government have been very good to introduce the mortgage holidays but ultimately it will need to come down to negotiations on the part of landlords and tenants. I don’t believe in wiping the debt clear, but I do think that in these challenging times, tenants should have the ability to defer some of the rent to an agreed later date.

Q. Yeah. Everyone has to try and work together I guess and just muddle through the best they can. I think that this situation will have some lasting changes though. Possibly even to the way people work – which was what I was going to ask you about next actually. I saw something today that I wanted to get your opinion on. Nu:move has revealed that sales and letting agents looking to be their own boss and run a franchised local estate agency can now set up for just £99 with no operating costs for the first year. The new offer is designed to help agents who have lost their jobs or developed a taste for working from home to set up as hybrid estate agents once the Coronavirus pandemic has passed. Do you think this will be popular?

A. I think to set up any business is tough and that’s why so many business’s fail in the first 2 years. Although I think the idea of setting up on your own is great – the fundamentals of being successful will still be challenging. I don’t think people should rush out to be business owners without having built a strong foundation or without having the experience needed to be successful in the industry that they work in. They will need to have business acumen to survive and we are seeing now loads of estate agents closing, either because they haven’t caught up with the times or because they haven’t managed their finances in the right way. After the first year when the operating costs (which are high) come in, then what?  People need to walk before they can run. But for those who are ready to run- I wish you all the best!

Q. Well I do hope some positives come out of this. There are certainly positives to be seen within it aren’t there? I read today for example that a lettings agency in central London was offering help to its landlords and tenants who were working with or reliant on the NHS. Team members have apparently been doing things such shopping for people who are unable to get out themselves because of ill health or because they are caring for an elderly parent. That’s nice isn’t it? There are a lot of touching stories like these at the moment aren’t there? Do you have any you’d like to share?

A. These stories are great and I love hearing how caring we have become as a society. It just shows how selfless human nature actually is. Our wonderful team have been working closely with a number of retirement blocks locally and have been able to arrange shopping trips for these elderly clients. We are also involved with a number of community projects where we have set up a home emergency contractors list of emergency plumbers, electricians, appliance engineers who will come out and deal with broken boilers etc. As you can appreciate boilers are still breaking and there is a real shortage of these contractors working due to the lockdown. By having this database we can deal with local emergency issues fairly swiftly and are just delighted to help in any way we can.

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A huge thank you to Yasser for taking the time out to talk to us . You can further connect with Yasser over at Adam Hayes. And of course, if you are a landlord or agent in need of property inventory services, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.