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As with many other businesses, the real estate sector opened its doors and has been fully operational since 1 June. And, like all other industries, property professionals had to adopt protocols to ensure their own safety and that of their clients.

The Rawson Property Group’s social distancing and stringent hygiene protocol during all real estate activities and transactions has now been adopted by Rebosa (Real Estate Business Owners of South Africa) as the industry standard, “and we urge all our fellow real estate professionals to implement it in their own businesses”, says Rawson CEO Tony Clarke.

The safety measures are put in place to protect everyone involved in the transaction, says Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO, RE/MAX Southern Africa. “Provided these measures are followed, the process of buying and selling homes presents a low risk to buyers, sellers and agents.”

Safety measures should include the following:

Online marketing: Virtual tours through video or photo galleries give buyers a good initial impression of a home. No show houses are permitted.

Meeting the buyer: Initial meetings are done as far as possible via phone, video call or email. If a person shows real interest in a property, a more rigorous prescreening process is implemented to determine whether they can afford the property. Risk of exposure to the virus is further limited by using a risk assessment process such as a set of questions on the buyer’s recent whereabouts and people they have been exposed to.

Physical viewings: Physical viewings are only done by appointment and with the consent of the seller or landlord. The agent will inform the seller or landlord about the safety protocols and get their written consent for the physical viewing. Only one buyer or tenant, a person accompanying them, and the agent are allowed during a viewing. The agent will inform the buyer or tenant prior to a viewing that strict adherence to safety protocols such as face masks, no touching of surfaces, hand sanitiser etc are required, or entrance to the property may be refused.

Allowing third parties access to a property: Agents arrange access strictly by appointment and with consent of the seller for third parties such as the valuer, building inspector, or engineer. Again, all parties must follow health and safety protocols.

Signing of contracts: Digital signing software is available to conclude mandates and lease agreements. However, physical signatures are still required to conclude offers to buy property.

Key handovers or inspections: Here agents have to improvise. They can, for instance, arrange that keys be left in a neutral, safe space for collection and that occupants wait outside while a home inspection takes place. Agents will sanitise all surfaces they touch and also the keys, once the inspection is over.

What clients say

The general feedback is that buyers and sellers have been very supportive of the “new way” of buying or selling a home and virtual home tours are proving to be exceedingly popular. “For some clients it was the first time to view a property virtually and their feedback was that they felt one couldn’t get closer to ‘real’ than their virtual experience,” Clarke says.

A more challenging aspect is the more rigorous prescreening process, says Paul Stevens, CEO, Just Property. “Implementing this is not always easy as clients may be offended or intimidated by this approach and agents fear losing clients to less discerning agents.”

In some cases, the requirement for consent to view a property has caused complications like a tenant refusing access for buyers or new tenants to view. “We’ve worked closely with our external legal advisors to navigate each scenario that we’re presented with to ensure we’re firm but fair,” he says.

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