Coronavirus: FAQs for principals and office staff

Business, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Industry News,  Principals

The REIQ has been closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19. As your peak body, we have developed an article that answers the questions we’ve been fielding through our Agency Advice and PMSS lines over the last few months.

FAQs:

Q: What precautions should I take in the office?
A:  All real estate office staff are advised to:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water and/or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser;
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a disposable hypoallergenic tissue or flexed elbow when coughing or sneezing, disposing of tissues immediately after use and either washing your hands or applying hand sanitiser;
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms; and
  • Remain home if feeling unwell.

You should also regularly clean your desk, phone (desk and mobile), tablets and computer keyboards. Furthermore, establishing a designated staff member or utilising a staff roster for regularly cleaning common surfaces including doorknobs, countertops, bathroom fixtures and reception areas (seating areas and any surfaces such as side tables) at least 2-3 times a day or as directed by the owner or principal.

Q: Should I invite potential buyers or sellers into my office?
A: The REIQ recommends real estate office staff adopt precautionary hygiene protocols in and around the office and ask potential visitors who may be feeling unwell to reschedule after 14 days (in accordance with Queensland Health directives). Recommended hygiene protocols include:

  • Display appropriate signage at the reception desk with the specific requirements clearly outlined for all prospective visitors to adhere whilst in your office;
  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitiser and request all on-site visitors use it upon entering the office;
  • Request all visitors refrain from touching anything where practical;
  • Maintain social distancing where practical;
  • Politely refrain from any physical contact with visitors; and
  • Do not permit entry to any visitor who is coughing, sneezing or showing any signs or symptoms of illness.

As already highlighted, while some agencies are cancelling in-person meetings and shifting to virtual meetings and conference calls, these are options all staff may also consider in lieu of face-to-face meetings at your office so as to continue conducting business.

Q: How can I promote personal hygiene to staff and visitors?
A: Personal hygiene is an important protection against COVID-19 and all respiratory illnesses – this includes washing hands regularly. It is critical to communicate openly with both clients and customers about the status of your operations, what protective measures you’ve implemented and how they (as customers) will be protected when they visit your agency or an inspection hosted by you. Promotions may also help incentivise clients and customers who may be reluctant to reconsider attending.

In addition, you may wish to consider placing posters in your office for your staff as hygiene reminders in the workplace. The Australian Government’s Department of Health offers two ready-to-use downloadable posters, which include one for washing hands (here) and one for coughing (here).

Q: What measures should I consider for my agency? 
A: The safety and well-being of staff is the responsibility of business owners and principals. The REIQ, in accordance with Queensland Health, recommends the following measures be taken:

  • Keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce the risk of exposure in the workplace
  • Make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up-to-date;
  • Consider extra precautions for staff who might be more vulnerable – for example, those employees aged 70 or over or those who have a pre-existing at risk health condition;
  • Provide hand-washing facilities and make sure these are kept clean, properly stocked and in good working order;
  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitiser, disinfectants, disposable hypoallergenic tissues and cleaning supplies;
  • Promote good hygiene practices such as displaying posters on hand washing and respiratory hygiene;
  • Keep the workplace clean and hygienic by regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces such as door handles and workstations to prevent contamination;
  • Visit the Smartraveller website before arranging business travel to destinations with cases of COVID-19;
  • Encourage any staff who are sick with respiratory illness to stay home until they’ve fully recovered;
  • Isolate any staff who become ill with respiratory symptoms in the workplace by isolating them in either an office or area away from other employees and clients.
  • Arrange for the staff member to be sent home and advise them to seek medical advice, calling an ambulance if necessary; and
  • Discourage any staff member who is suffering from respiratory illness from attending inspections, client meetings and other activities that involve human interaction.

Call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) for advice if a staff member is confirmed to have COVID-19 and inform co-workers about possible exposure while maintaining confidentiality.

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INSURANCE

The following information has been kindly provided by Aon and Carter Newell Lawyers, the Solicitors for The REIQ Professional Indemnity Scheme brokered through Aon Risk Services and underwritten by QBE Insurance (Australia) Ltd.

Q: Will I still be covered by my professional indemnity policy if I am unable to comply with my contractual obligations under my PO Form 6 appointment?
A: In these unique circumstances, agents should of course do all that they reasonably can to safely perform their duties and obligations as property managers. It’s important that agents be completely transparent with their lessor clients and tenants and let them know of any alterations to the performance of their normal duties. This will reduce the risk of any claims arising. Whilst we cannot speak for other insurers, QBE (who are the professional indemnity insurers for The REIQ Professional Indemnity Scheme through Aon Risk Solutions) have confirmed that they will not take issue with any of their insureds not being able to strictly fulfil their contractual obligations under their PO Form 6 appointment.

Q: Will I still be covered for mismanagement claims if I am unable to carry out inspections at a rental property?
A: As indicated above, agents should endeavour to perform their obligations under their PO Form 6 appointment as best they can in the circumstances. Whilst not ideal, agents should consider alternative ways of performing their contractual obligations. For instance, it may become necessary to conduct entry, exit and routine inspections via electronic means (such as Facetime and the like) or requesting that tenants send photos of a rental property in lieu of an inspection. Before considering these alternative solutions, agents should seek written consent from their lessor clients to any changes in the manner in which the agent’s duties are performed. In the event of a mismanagement claim, QBE has confirmed that they will not take issue with agents not being able to carry out physical inspections if they have acted reasonably and sought, and acted upon, their lessor client’s written instructions to conduct inspections via other means.

Q: Will I still be able to access the Deductible Waiver Extension clause in my QBE REIQ Scheme Professional Indemnity policy, even if I can’t comply with the risk management conditions?
A: Again, agents should act reasonably and do all that they practically can to fulfil their obligations as property managers. In assessing whether an agent has complied with the risk management conditions, QBE will consider whether the agent has endeavoured to fulfil its obligations under its PO Form 6 agreement. QBE will not require strict compliance with those conditions which are unable to be fulfilled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Any agents who wish to discuss their professional indemnity policy, or their insurance needs generally, are invited to contact the Aon Real Estate Team on 1300 734 274
  • Any members of The REIQ Professional Indemnity Scheme who wish to notify a claim or potential claim should call Carter Newell Lawyers on 1800 624 264

OTHER INFORMATION & RESOURCES

Australian Government Support for Business
The Australian Government is supporting businesses to manage cash flow challenges and retain employees during the COVID-19 health crisis. A range of assistance is available to support business investment, assist cash flow, maintain employees including apprentices and trainees in jobs and assist severely affected regions. For more information click here.


Payroll Tax Relief Package

If your business has been affected by the crisis, you can defer lodging and paying payroll tax returns until 31 July, 2020. For more information click here.

TECHNOLOGY

Q: What tech can I use to help keep my team together?
A: Tech to run meetings: Hold your team accountable on a daily basis with team meetings run on Zoom. It runs on the cloud so you don’t need to download anything and you can access video conferencing via a desktop, laptop or even a mobile phone app. It’s easy to set up and even the free version lets you have meetings of up to 40 minutes with up to 100 participants. You can also use Skype for Business.

Tech to keep up to date and collaborate: Email is probably the least responsive way to get through this crisis, especially when it comes to working together as a team. This is because anything you attach creates versions which can quickly become out-of-date and all require uploading and downloading to be edited which is time-consuming. Enhance your daily team stand-ups with collaboration tools like Slack which is essentially a chat room for your business and allows the conversations to continue and decisions to be made. Slack lets you create channels – so you’ll have one channel for the whole business and then smaller channels for individual teams (John’s sales team, Em’s Property Managers etc), and/or you can direct message individuals. It’s cloud-based and works anywhere as long as you’re online. It also has a very effective mobile phone app. Slack also integrates with other apps like Dropbox and Google Drive which means you can edit documents on the fly. It’s also fully searchable so you can easily find conversations and decisions.

Tech to share documents:
There is a myriad of apps to support document sharing. Dropbox is easy-to-use and free to setup and Google Drive is very popular too. If you’re a Microsoft user, now might also be the time to explore OneDrive which is part of your Office365 account. Each will allow you to upload and/or create documents and share them with others in your team, who – depending on your permissions – can also edit or comment. The trick with shared drives however is to choose ONE and mandate its usage across the team and then create some good filing and admin rules on how they are to be used just as you would mandate office filing. Don’t let everyone use their own or you’ll end up with information everywhere.

Tech for team projects:
Check out tools like Monday, Asana, Trello or Basecamp. Your team will be able to see updates in real time, share links to files and they’re all easier and much more visual which means you can see where things are at a glance even on your phone. And that will help you spot issues before they become problems.

Tech for team training:
Use Zoom to organise webinars – you can share your screen and run through slides or powerpoints and even record proceedings. If you need to record videos for training, check out Loom. You can use it on any website and record both your actions and your own face, so it’s a great way to step people through processes.

Q: What tech is good for building my marketing presence?
A
: Everyone is going to be on social media platforms a lot over the next month or so. So what better time to build your social media profile? Turn the data from your CRM or CoreLogic account into great content about your suburb or listings using HomePrezzo. It will help you create videos, reports and social media data visualisations in minutes rather than days and let you share them out quickly, or post onto your website. RealContent offers ready-to-go articles already pre-written.

Turning content into targeted advertising is the next step and there’s now a range of tools to help real estate agents do that without needing to master Facebook Ad Manager. Check out SpokeApp.io which automates digital ad creation for Facebook, Instagram and GoogleAds. Adfenix and CCT are other options being used by agents in Australia. Or if you want to outsource it altogether, use this time to check out Plezzel or Socialestate which offer more agency-based services.

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