Lockdown didn't mean lock out for our customers

Virtual viewings that allow our empty properties to be seen and let whilst avoiding the risk of spreading the coronavirus are proving popular with our customers and staff.

The new service enables customers to view photographs of a home they are interested in instead of visiting the property and reduces the number of appointments needed to complete their new tenancy.

Whilst limited viewings in person are now taking place again, virtual viewing continues and we are exploring how we can extend the service to include sending videos to prospective customers and adding floor plans to property adverts.

Deb Longhurst, Voids and Lettings Manager, said: ”Lockdown didn’t mean our customers gave up looking for a home or that we stopped housing those in need.

“So, before we entered lockdown in March our lettings teams were challenged to come up with ideas to handle viewings under restrictions that were workable and safe for customers and staff.”

She explained that previously customers viewed a potential home along with up to two other applicants and a lettings officer and once they had accepted a property and it was ready for occupation, they met their rent payment officer and signed the tenancy.

“But due to the restrictions our lettings teams had to think outside the box so we could still let properties, without putting our customers and staff at risk of infection from coronavirus or breaking the social distancing rules,” she added.

Surveyors visiting empty properties to do safety checks and check essential repairs have been completed prior to letting, take photographs of each room and, where possible, letting teams forward the images to applicants instead of them travelling to the property to look around.

Then, when they accept a property, information on the conditions of their new tenancy is posted to them so that they can read this before attending a quick ‘sign-up’ appointment and collecting the keys to their new home.

Deb added: “Staff across the business volunteered to do sign-ups which ensured we were able to continue to let properties to customers in need of housing.”

Lisa Harris, Operations Manager, said: “Virtual viewing has worked well, especially in the northern area, and customers have appreciated having the opportunity to look at photographs of properties and make a decision.”

She added that one customer she herself had signed up to their tenancy had been ready to move on from supported housing when he became ill with coronavirus.

“He wouldn’t have been able to attend any viewings in person but we’ve been able to complete the process and now he’s recovered he’s very excited to get a home he really wanted.”

Photographs are available for around 70 per cent of our void properties and lettings officers’ report many customers accept homes viewed on this basis.

Over the coming months we will be trialling contactless sign-ups to further avoid face-to-face appointments, whilst ensuring new customers get details of how their heating works and other important information and that our more vulnerable customers still get the personal approach they need.

We’re also looking at adding floor plans to adverts about available properties to help people decide if the house or flat is right for them early on in their search, and at how we can send videos of empty properties to prospective customers to replace viewing in person.

Although viewings in person have resumed we are ensuring these go ahead safely by limiting visits to one applicant at a time and continuing to observe social distancing.

4th June 2020 | 2020