Updated: Aug 21, 2020
I think in so many ways we at John Woolley Ltd have been lucky. Once we felt sufficiently sure that, despite the threat of Covid, life was continuing, albeit with everyone taking sensible precautions, and respecting the views and situations of others, then we could simply rearrange our usual work patterns and carry on. It wasn’t quite ‘business as usual’ and it has had to evolve as the weeks have passed – and we don’t yet know how it will settle down in the future – but our professional relationships and work-life were able to resume quite smoothly and quickly. Our little team started lockdown by being willing to work from home – a key ingredient to being able to continue our business. Sincere thanks are due for that assistance and support, and gratitude too for the IT facilities which enabled us to carry on. And hopefully – without it intruding too much on private home life – it provided some measure of variety to the otherwise limited existence of being confined to one’s home for days on end. Again, fortunately, we are all blessed in this part of the country, with having some space around us so fresh air and a ‘stretching of our legs’ was always available. My spring work is always dominated by annual farm stocktaking valuations. The first month or so of lockdown involved these mainly being carried out remotely. Information and figures were passed electronically or via a phone call and in the end only one set of farm records had to be picked up by a socially-distanced handover at the end of the farm track! My inspections of animals and crops were carried out solo, if required. I am lucky to know these farms very well having carried out their stock-takes over many years, so retaining consistency with values and descriptions is a straightforward process.
Annual grazing licences and grass-keep arrangements are also dealt with in the spring and these too could be put in place remotely. New instructions were generally satisfied for contacts we already have. Estate and property management carried on without interruption. All of our tenants continued to pay their rents and on time. Repairs and maintenance could still be put in hand as essential trades and services remained available and, fortunately, no major incidents occurred. Other valuations and appraisals were still being requested. None of the probate valuations was Covid-related but it has still been a particularly sad period because funerals and thanksgiving services have lacked the usual gathering of friends and wider family. Such events are an important feature of our farming communities, enabling us to recognise and remember the life that has passed and at the same time find comfort in connections and continuity. Private client work gives me the privilege of many personal conversations with those I work for – again often enhanced by longstanding relationships. It has not been surprising that this four-month period of lockdown has given focus in many households to the matter of Wills, Powers of Attorney and what I term ‘family planning’ – that recurring need to identify and put in place the wishes of clients for their property and assets into the future. Lockdown has emphasised the importance of discussing these topics and the slower pace of life has provided a valuable opportunity to quietly consider and make decisions. This year, 2020, also seemed to be a ten-year anniversary for quite a few clients’ Trusts – so we were busy carrying out a number of valuations for these. Property sales were largely put on hold, with the marketing programme effectively closed during lockdown. My business does not specialise in open-market sales so was less affected than many agents. Even so, some private negotiations have continued with ‘deals done’. Opportunities do not always come along in response to one’s plans, so sometimes they must be taken when they do appear – even in the middle of this unprecedented period. Progressing many of these projects when needing the services of other professions has not been easy. Many staff in professional firms were furloughed so the continuity paused. And responses from institutions (such as local authorities, the Land Registry, banks and HM Revenue) have been slow. But hopefully these will now revert to normal and anyway we are benefiting from the rapid evolutions in IT which have sped up many processes. Lockdown may have put paid finally to the pre-eminence of traditional and trusted means of communication; even meetings and seminars ‘online’ are becoming the norm and entire pieces of my work have been discussed, resolved and completed remotely or by via email. And on the whole it has worked! For me, a rich variety of work continued to arise during this strange half-year: farm tenancies; boundary claims; interpretation of covenants; mapping and the plethora of general advice, comment and reassurance that a surveyor and valuer metes out to his clients. And as important as anything, we have kept in regular touch with all those we do business for – particularly to reassure and be reassured that everyone is safe and well. For John Woolley Ltd, it has been a busy lockdown. Unusual, remote and at a pace of its own, but a period of achievement and of assessment as we all get ready for the ‘new norm’ – maybe with a degree of caution but also with confidence… Many thanks to everyone for helping to contribute to this outcome.