Open for business - housing market’s boost to the economy
The housing market has taken a huge step towards reopening for business - and estate agents predict it will provide a much-needed kickstart to the economy.
After two months of almost total lockdown, the government’s coronavirus guidance on May 13 made it clear that people who wish to move home can do so, and while it does “not represent a return to normality”, estate agents’ offices can open, viewings are permitted, show homes can open, and other parts of the sales and letting process can restart.
The process will be different because of coronavirus, with more of the process now online, but with Zoopla estimating there were 373,000 property transactions with a value of £82bn on hold across the UK, there will be a massive release of pent-up demand.
The flurry of activity since May 13 has been “an interesting process”, says Bidwells’ residential partner, Andrew Tucker, stressing the firm is “very much open for business”.
He said: “The market has started to move at a pace and I think it’s going to give a much-needed kickstart to the economy. We are incredibly excited. All the transactions that were put on hold have started again, we are going to see an increase in exchanges and completions, and I’ve got a diary full of viewings and valuations.
“We are very much open for business and always have been - we have a very agile way of working that was in place before Covid-19, a lot of our staff will remain working from home and we are in the process of preparing our offices to be a safe place to visit.
“We have been working to have video and virtual tours available for all of our properties and we are going live with this. And we have put together some visual aid documents and guidelines for vendors, applicants and staff for an in-person viewing.”
Viewings in person will only take place following a virtual viewing, social distancing rules and guidelines on hand washing must be observed and viewers can wear PPE if they wish.
Andrew said: “We ask the vendor to vacate the property and to open all doors, windows and cupboards. The applicant, who will be waiting outside at a safe distance or in their car, is then invited into the property. They have to use hand sanitiser before going in and not touch anything inside the house. No children (under 16) are to be present and no unnecessary bags are to be taken inside. All discussions that would have taken place in the house will now take place outside at a distance.”
All aspects of the market are cranking up activity - conveyancers, removal companies, and solicitors who have been drafting Covid-19 clauses into contracts - and Andrew said they could now visit properties to complete physical, rather than virtual, valuations.
He said it was too early to speculate on the possible effect of the disruption on house prices and it was “inevitable that there are some people who will be apprehensive”.
“People want to move, and people need to move,” said Andrew. “Those people that considered moving before Covid-19 want to move but they may require or desire a different type of property because of working from home. We would encourage people to enquire about valuations and properties that are for sale.”
Richard Freshwater, Cheffins’ director of residential sales in Cambridge, has seen a marked surge in activity over the past few days.
He said: “Now the restrictions have been eased, we are seeing a flurry of completions with buyers keen to press ahead with their transactions. We are also seeing a surge in requests to view houses and requests for market appraisals fuelled by weeks of lockdown, with people now clear about the desire to change their living arrangements.
“We see the reopening of the property market as a significant catalyst for positivity in the broader economy. Buying and selling property are among the biggest contributors of economic growth and sustainability and the ‘multiplier’ effect will invigorate consumer sentiment and provide confidence to wider parts of the economy after two months of inactivity.”
Cheffins want to be “completely satisfied” that all the necessary risk assessments are in place before reopening their offices.
Richard said: “While we are delighted the government has recognised the need to restart the property market allowing estate and letting agents to get back to work, it is not without its logistical challenges. As a business we have been creative and agile in adapting our business practices to ensure total compliance with government guidelines in a world that is at the mercy of an infectious disease.”
Outlining the changes that potential clients will notice, he said: “In our 195 years in business we have always operated an ‘open door’ policy but now we are asking our clients to call ahead and book appointments to visit our offices. Virtual viewings of properties will be offered initially followed up with a physical viewing where the intent to purchase is serious.
“Viewings and market appraisals will be carried out by a director equipped with PPE and we will observe physical distancing guidelines while undertaking viewings.
He said Cheffins is working with vendor clients to timetable viewings to fit in with their regular daily outings so that vendor and buyer do not come into contact. And if a couple who are living separately wish to view a property together, they will be asked to book separate appointments.
Richard said: “These measures may seem draconian but as a business we recognise that it’s critical that we all play a part in minimising the risk of a second spike in the virus.”