With estate agents now allowed to reopen after seven weeks of coronavirus lockdown, will the property market in England start to recover?
A loosening of shutdown guidelines means that buyers and renters are now allowed to move home show homes can reopen and estate agents can reopen their offices, though everyone should maintain strict social distancing guidelines.
According to industry sources, more than 450,000 non-essential house moves have stalled since lockdown was initiated, and even the most optimistic property market pundits predict an inevitable fall in house prices.
As part of changes to the Health Protection regulations, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced new guidelines, “To allow the housing market to resume. Our clear plan will enable people to move home safely, covering each aspect of the sales and letting process from viewings to removals.”
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Although estate agents are still being urged to arrange virtual viewings, visiting estate agents and viewing properties are now permitted, homeowners are able to prepare properties for sale, surveyors can enter homes to prepare valuations and removal companies can return to work.
Fitters such as electricians and plumbers are also allowed to visit customers’ homes, so long as they follow health guidance.
David Cox, chief executive of letting agents’ body ARLA Propertymark and Mark Hayward, chief executive of estate agents’ group NAEA Propertymark, said: “It’s great news for consumers and the industry that the housing market is being opened up and people can let, rent, buy and sell properties again.
“The new regulations provide clarity to agents and will allow them to deal with pent-up demand from consumers. It’s also a step to reinvigorating the housing market and will be a boost to the economy. Safety of course will be paramount, and we would encourage everyone to ensure that they follow government guidelines closely to protect others and themselves.”
How well the idea will work in practice is another question. Some estate agents have furloughed most of their staff, not expecting to return to work before June 1st.
Full speed ahead
Alasdair Dunne, head of residential at Fisher German, which has 13 offices covering England and Wales, said: “We thought we’d be included with other retail and it would be 1 June before we could reopen, then all of a sudden it’s full speed ahead.”
“Some (clients) are really keen to get on and do things, but some are actually quite nervous,” commented Alisdair Dunne. “We are seeing if sellers are happy for viewings to take place. If it doesn’t look feasible to do it safely, we’re not doing it.”
While empty properties will obviously be the safest to show; Winkworth, which has 100 branches throughout the UK, said: “Agents will wear face masks and gloves while carrying out viewings, will open doors in advance and will sanitise doors and light switches before and afterwards.”
One London-based estate agent announced that it would set up virtual viewings using Zoom before arranging safe social distancing physical viewing with any discussions held outside the building, while some estate agents intend to ask would-be buyers to complete a health declaration before offering viewings and market appraisals for sales and lettings.
Pack it in
Home movers are being advised to do as much of their packing themselves as possible, and Robert Jenrick said guidance from Public Health England must continue to be followed, and for example anyone advised to self-isolate should continue to do so and not move home.
With estate agents now allowed to reopen after seven weeks of coronavirus lockdown, the property market in England may start to recover, but the property markets in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland remain resolutely shut.