The move to Level 4 lockdown has done little to change the situation for most estate agents, most of whom were already working from home.
PayProp CEO Jan Davel says that due to lockdown, agents are not necessarily able to follow their normal processes and protocols, which more often than not include shared hard copy files and printed paperwork. In addition, with teams working together remotely, the usual office collaboration, including spontaneous information sharing and hallway chats, is harder to achieve.
A decision maker’s attention is further also split in substantially more directions. “Spouses, children, deliveries and other factors make it increasingly difficult to be as productive or engaged when working from home”.
Davel suggests that estate agents ask themselves the following questions to keep their ships on course in this uncertain time:
1. Is there sufficient communication amongst colleagues?
“Without physical proximity, there is far less face-to-face communication between colleagues, which could result in far fewer checks and balances if the right tools aren’t used,” says Davel. Use the tools and processes necessary to check in as often as needed – as a group and individually – to keep information flowing.
2. Is there sufficient segregation of duties?
With all-digital file storage and sharing, is there sufficient segregation of duties? Or is there a risk that an individual has too much access to or control over any particular aspect of a transaction? Davel says that it is best practice to ensure that no one employee, especially someone that works with trust funds, is left to manage an entire transaction from start to finish.
3. Are suppliers correctly verified?
With reduced face-to-face communication between colleagues, it’s important to check that the person who authorises payments to rental suppliers (electricians, plumbers, etc.) has the right information to ensure that the vendor’s details are correct.
Was there genuinely an essential service rendered? Why is this payment only being processed now? Responsible people must use common sense and accept nothing at face value.
“It’s always vital that the supplier’s banking details are confirmed, as well as the amount to be paid,” says Davel.
4. Are you keeping a close eye on financial transactions?
Agency principals and directors should keep a close eye on all financial movements to check the accuracy of all details including recipients. Distraction is a real factor for all people working from home, and whether intended or not, mistakes can be made.
Davel says in this climate, even debit notes and credit notes should be double-checked for accuracy. “It’s important to understand the reason for each ‘correction’, as well as any other financial movements, and check it against an applicable source document – like an invoice.”
5. How could you support your team better?
Technology provides the tools needed to support the new remote working structure. Davel says PayProp is designed to be used from anywhere, on any device – and with direct integration into the banking system, it keeps principals up to date with all transactions. “Employees get live access to real information on the platform and with PayProp’s indelible audit trail, principals are able to maintain visibility and control over their workflows, including which tasks have been completed and which haven’t,” says Davel.
“The likelihood is that estate agents will continue to work under these same circumstances for some time yet,” says Davel. “My advice is to find innovative new methods and processes to oversee operations, which will likely benefit the business in the long run. I expect that many estate agencies will, like us, retain some of the new, lockdown-induced, methods and processes once the lockdown has been lifted.”