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Virtual viewings no match for real world eye test – Clifford

by: Rob Clifford, chief executive of Stonebridge
  • 29/05/2020
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Virtual viewings no match for real world eye test – Clifford
There’s no doubting that after the Covid-19 lockdown, we are likely to see some considerable shifts in working patterns as we evidence and reflect on the benefits of remote working.


Whether the utilisation of, and reliance on, technology changes everything about the way we work in the future remains to be seen but the immense impact is already becoming clear.

Take for instance a recent tweet from a mortgage adviser which showed both the possibilities and the limitations of utilising technology within the home buying process.

The adviser said that a client had done a virtual property viewing and put in an offer.

When they were able to physically see that property, they had immediately withdrawn their offer, noticing a number of issues that had just not been visible during their remote, online tour.

That ability to have a good look around a property is a fundamental component in the process, although of course, there are many properties sold without a physical viewing by the buyer.

In the lockdown our own SDL Auctions business has sold more than 250 properties without the buyer seeing them, but we all know this is a small minority in a normalised market.


Essential face-to-face advice

Despite all the benefits that technology delivers, our industry could only truly get moving again when lockdown measures were partially relaxed and the opportunity to visit properties was made available.

Of course, this is only for England at the moment and those in other parts of the UK are still not there yet and therefore any return to a new normality there is going to take a little longer.

That is not to disparage how crucial technology has been throughout this period.

However, we must also recognise there are some limitations – take client meetings for instance.

While using online video conferencing has been a real God-send, advisers often talk about the empathy and connection they have with clients when meeting them face-to-face and how, when seeing where they live and their situation, this can often change the direction of the advice provided.

That connection is not always possible via a telephone or online chat.

I’m thinking specifically of advisers who might deal with clients at two ends of the spectrum particularly – first-time buyers and those in later life – who tell us they benefit the most from a face-to-face approach.


Upcoming challenges

In that vein, while technology will continue to be deployed and adopted far more than pre-Covid-19, there will be large numbers of firms who do want to get their staff back out in the field, or indeed into an office.

Our own poll suggests just a nine per cent swing in the firms who will move away from face to face, to a remote service.

Having seen that operating remotely can work, it’s just not their preference or indeed their plan for the immediate future.

There is a different energy to working within close proximity of each other, with the ability to bounce ideas off colleagues, develop strategies and solutions, that is just not quite so easy through the laptop screen.

Meanwhile, especially at the moment, our sector has a challenge to overcome in terms of ensuring office spaces are safe.

It will be about getting a happy medium between having that work-space available but certainly for a reduced number of staff.

Some of the challenges of how we work with each other and with our clients are only just about to be encountered.

Flexibility and inventiveness are going to be needed, much will be done by trial and error, and good broker firms will be sharing best practice.



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