In our recent webinar ‘Life on the property desks during Coronavirus’ we asked leading national property correspondents to discuss how they have been dealing with coverage during the lockdown, and how you can best work with them. See below for top tips from key property editors Helen Davies, Isabelle Fraser and Mark Palmer.
What sort of pitches are you receiving at the moment and are you eager to hear particular ideas from PRs at the moment? Is the PR community being quite helpful or are you being inundated with unhelpful emails from PRs?
I’m not being particularly inundated with emails to be honest, I think our relationship is far more with the readers than the PRs and it feels much more conversational with what’s currently happening. We’re asking for readers to send in their questions as much as possible and we’re answering them. I’m sure all of the other editors have seen record digital traffic in this period which is completely unsurprising. Everyone is becoming more attuned to a new version of reality, to a pace of change that is evolving much quicker than usual.
I always want to receive ideas. It’s exactly the same as pre-lockdown, there is absolutely no difference. I want good ideas, I want them to be relevant, they have to be newsworthy and exclusive, they have to be useful to the reader. That was the same two months ago and it’s exactly the same now. It’s just that the appetite from the reader is probably more intense and in greater numbers than you would’ve had before.
On that note, Isabelle, all of your readers are very particularly engaged with their respective publications so presumably you have the same volume of questions coming in. What sort of questions are your readers asking you and how can PRs help answer them?
A lot of readers are asking questions that we don’t know the answers to, particularly questions that the government need to answer so we tryour best to find our way through it. I have taken on a more active role in personal fniance so I’m seeing more questions about businesses and it’s all the same, it’s all trying to make sense of the current situation. I can’t really pin one thing down, but I think people are unsure about what exactly the freeze in the market means, because it is actually quite vague. The market is frozen but you can still make an offer on a house if you want to, but it’s very unclear. No one is going to give anyone clarity, the government is not going to say anything more so we just have to work out what that means for people
In terms of PRs that I have got, all the insight and the expertise you want, I find a need to have it all the way through the chain, whereas before it might have been much more on the selling side, and we did cover solicitors and conveyancing and the council a little bit. But I think you now want to understand all of that far more.
Mark, what sort of stories will you be running for the next few weeks on the rental market?
I think a lot of our readers tend to be over 55s and so we don’t get too many questions about the rental market. I think what we’re getting is people that are just worried about timing, when should they do x and when should they do y. You can still make an offer on a property today and you can exchange despite the government’s warning that that’s not a very good idea. But perhaps it is a good idea, perhaps actually this is the time when you can actually negotiate, you can use the uncertainty to your advantage.
Also, I think for a lot of our older readers who are maybe looking to downsize and hate being in limbo just want to know, if I exchange and if I can agree with the buyer or seller that we won’t have a specified completion date then at least I know I have this transaction in the bag and I will sort out the details a bit later. Obviously that depends on the two groups of solicitors agreeing to that. Then you’ve got the question of first-time buyers, should they be maybe thinking that this is a good time to look around and get your eye on something. Or do you just wait and do absolutely nothing for a few months. I don’t really have the answer to that but those are the sorts of questions I think people are asking.
Will stories about gardening unfold in the next few weeks, do you think we’ll all start to really yearn for that green space in any property that is being offered by estate agents?
If you live in London, as I do, and if you have a tiny little patch of concrete out the back and when you look at friends who post, Instagram pictures, of cherry blossom gardens and lawns and paddling pools, I get deeply irritated.
Yes we have already done a lot of gardening specials. Rachel de Thame wrote a very moving piece and she called gardening the fourth emergency service. But we can see that it’s not a new thing, gardening and why gardens are just so good for your health and wellbeing has been championed for a number of years, this lockdown has proved just how significant that actually is and what a difference that can make. But again, it has to be practical help that you’re offering at the moment, so we might do virtual gardening apps, garden podcasts to listen to, the best garden books, 101 things to do on your balcony. Anything and everything, trying to appeal to those that have a small balcony up to those with a very large garden. I’m sure there are people terribly worried about whether or not they should still employ their 3 gardeners, or what’s happening with their lawn, we’ll cover them too. Overall, I think there’s much more to be learnt and it will start to come out later about how we design our homes, towns and villages and what we need to do. High-rise might not be the answer anymore.
Are you thinking about future-looking stories or is it too difficult to predict what will happen?
The future loses its meaning, I mean the future for me is Friday, so not really. I think it’s very now. I am also very interested in stories that have nothing to do with Coronavirus, that are interesting in themselves. Please my God give me something else to read about. Life will continue afterwards, obviously, hopefully, if there’s interesting stories about I don’t know, not developments necessarily, but towns being built. Yes is the answer, but I can’t tell you exactly what – as long as they’re interesting.
How important is expert commentary right now, do you want experts to speak to you or should we wait for people to come to you?
They’re always interested in hearing what people have to say, it doesn’t make the paper all the time but it’s all just the mill and it is helpful. Particularly, I am interested in seeing how proactive the property world is being in this kind of dead time, and interested in new ideas or trying to put pressure on the government in terms of stamp duty or whatever it is. So I am keen on that, it’s just what doesn’t quite work for us is that as soon as anything happens that you then get 100 quotes from somebody saying nothing particularly interesting about some slight change of direction, because it just doesn’t make the paper. But that isn’t to say one should stop doing that, it just has to be something newsworthy otherwise it is a waste of everybody’s waste of time.
Are you looking for overseas property stories or focusing on the UK market?
Yes, people keep asking about overseas, whilst we cannot travel then overseas stories are very limited. Apart from the fact that the reader can’t necessarily go there to look at the house, we can’t either and so we’re not going to write about houses we can’t go and actually see in the flesh, or places we can see in the flesh. But I think we’re already looking at possibly doing a piece that is a round up on early indications of what’s happening in other overseas housing markets. We might do that as a one off. If and when prices start to dip significantly in certain areas of Europe which are British favourite spots then, its a bit ghoulish but, there’s the possibility of bargain-hunting type stories. Again, it’s totally dependent on the story, and I think that if there’s something incredibly price-sensitive and relevant to make it news-ey. Or personal, and people are definitely responding far, far more to the personal in stories, so we are looking for those.
Do you think virtual property tours are going to be on the up?
Well I think they clearly are on the up and as I said before, it’s a bit of an obvious one. Everyone has written about virtual tours. But I do think it does show us, in the same scary sort of way, that the Daily Mail has now realised they can produce a newspaper everyday without having one single person in the office. And so I think in the future there will be more of a call for the virtual tours and I think that perhaps that’s a positive that has emerged from this. That you’re going to be able to see online more property than just a few pictures. So yes, I think that’s a positive in a way.