Government Kick Starts English Housing Market

The Government has laid out plans to restart England’s housing market which has been frozen effectively since the start of the coronavirus lockdown.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said estate agents can now reopen, viewings can be conducted and removal firms and conveyancers can resume their business operations, albeit still subject to social distancing and safety rules. It has been estimated there could be as many as 450,000 buyers and renters with plans on hold.

Mr Jenrick said the Government’s decisive strategy will allow this ‘critically important’ industry to progress and enable people who have waited patiently to move home to do so safely at every stage of the sales and lettings processes, from viewings to removals.

Guidance from Public Health England, he added, must continue to be followed and anyone advised to self-isolate should continue do so and not move home. But the change in advice has prompted questions over how social distancing will work to ensure people remain safe during the viewing process, especially when tenants are still resident.

However, the property markets in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland remain in lockdown with home viewings not allowed and their land registries providing either a reduced service or not registering transactions.

Viewings must continue

Alistair Elliott, Chairman and senior partner at estate agent Knight Frank welcomed the move, saying the measures were a ‘major first step’ and that the public will have the confidence to participate in the housing market once more.

Jonathan Hooper, CEO of real estate consultants Garrington Property Finders, reckoned that a powerful incentive for people to move house will be having had to stay at home for the past seven weeks, as demonstrated by the fact that traffic to property portals has increased by up to one fifth over the period.

Lucy Pendleton, property expert at independent estate agent James Pendleton, commented that although the situation is unprecedented, viewings must continue. The firm has all the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) and buyers and sellers keen to start viewing straightaway, while they await the detailed guidelines.

It is great news, she believes, that agents won’t have to postpone viewings until July as they will be able to gauge sooner whether some of the more alarming predictions for the housing market will come true. Ms Pendleton added that in London there had been a total absence of conditions that would normally presage a steep fall in property prices.

A similar situation, she said, is likely to exist across the country. The lack of supply made worse by sellers delaying their moves until after the pandemic has subsided will put a floor under prices, which is what happened during the Brexit negotiations. Another plus factor is ultra-low interest rates which will heighten buying power.

Demand from buyers and sellers bouyant

One of the main contributory factors to the freezing of the housing market has been the inability to survey property for both new and remortgage appllications. Surveyors can now enter homes to complete the valuations mortgage firms need in order to lend on a property.

Andrew Montlake, Managing Director of the mortgage broker, Coreco, commented that the move is a first step in the right direction and is to be welcomed, although it will be a while before there exists a fully functional housing market. What will become apparent in the weeks ahead is how cautious surveyors will be in their valuations and lenders in their criteria.

Demand is definitely there, he believes, having received many enquiries this month, especially from buyers seeking to move to rural areas in order to reduce the risk of possible future pandemics.

Although the announcement by the Government will confirm hopefully the housing sector’s belief that frustrated demand among buyers and renters is about to be unleashed, the reality is that many people’s finances are now considerably less stable than just several months ago when they were expecting to move.

This could result in haggling over price if buyers and sellers have yet to agree formally what they will pay or accept, in particular if obtaining a mortgage becomes problematic. Estate agent Savills has already suggested that people who can afford to look for a new home may be reconsidering their priorities.

Superfast broadband and a spare room may quickly have become valuable assets and a garden a must-have feature for households with young children.

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