Coronavirus And The Property Market: Your Questions Answered

With the current coronavirus outbreak, and the UK in lockdown it’s a frustrating time for everyone involved in home moves and property at the moment. With circumstances changing almost daily, many buyers, sellers and renters are naturally uncertain about how to move forward in the current property market.

We’ve tried our best to answer the most important questions, but if you have more get in touch with the team from Chewton Rose. We might be working from home, but we’re still here and happy to help.

What is the property market like at the moment?

Despite all the disruption, the property market is active assisted by the Stamp Duty holiday which runs through to the 31st March 2021. After the first few months of the year being busy for the industry, structurally this hasn’t changed to date. While there are challenges that need to be overcome, and new ways of working adopted, there are still plenty of people looking for their ideal home.  Since the easing of lockdown, there has been high demand from buyers and sellers to move and this has continued through recent restrictions. 

Interest rates have been reduced to a record low of 0.1 per cent by the Bank of England, meaning that mortgages are more affordable and repayment rates will be lower.

The property industry has adapted already to find new ways of working whilst staying safe during the lockdown. New technology means agents can conduct virtual viewings to generate interest for properties on the market, then those that would like an in-person viewing can arrange one. 

Similarly, alternatives for signing contracts, like using video calls as a means of witnessing signatures and scanning signed contracts as an alternative for people who don’t want to post them are all helping keep business flowing. Measures have also been introduced so that regulators and lenders can now accept scanned photographs, meaning that certified copies of ID are no longer required.

From May 2020 the housing market in England was able to open up within the social distancing guidelines.  We introduced policies and procedures to staying safe which you can read here.  Regulations allow viewings to take place where it is safe to do so and updated regulations regarding these changes can be found here.   

On the 23rd October 2020 Wales entered a ‘firebreak’ lockdown in a move to control the spread of the virus.  Planned to end on the 9th November 2020, the housing market activity has been subject to certain restrictions and our branch teams in Wales moved to home.  House moves already in progress and unable to delayed until after the lockdown period are permitted to proceed.  Physical property viewings are not permitted during the “firebreak” lockdown period however virtual viewings can continue.

On Tuesday 5th January 2021, England entered a new lockdown (lockdown 3) period. As before, the property market can continue to operate and our branch teams continue to work from home, thereby playing our part in controlling the spread of the virus. Our safe and secure operating procedures reduce the risks for both our customers and staff.

Should I take my house off the market?

If your house is already listed then there is no need to take it off the market unless you feel this is the right thing to do. Given the circumstances, there are still plenty of searches happening and lots of enquires being made.

Many people looking to move for various reasons will still be shortlisting properties and making plans for when normality resumes. Keeping your property on the market and allowing agents to conduct virtual viewings can help generate an interest in your property while physical viewings can’t take place.

It’s also important to remember that you can accept offers from prospective buyers during this time.

Should I put my house on the market?

If this is the right thing for you, then yes! Government guidance isn’t requiring people to stop listing properties, so be prepared to be flexible and to work differently and go for it.

The inability for people to view properties in person is the main challenge most houses on the market are facing, but there are ways around this. Viewings to prospective buyers can be conducted remotely, so if your property has already been valued and photographed it can be put on the market.

If you’re waiting for a valuation on your property, speak to your local estate agent. Most agencies are familiar with the local market and generally have access to a huge amount of data, often making it possible for them to value properties remotely. You can help by providing them with measurements and conducting virtual tours of the property.

If you’re still in the early stages of trying to sell your house, it’s still worth speaking to your agents. They might tell you to hold fire on listing your property, and instead get it ready for sale. As well as improving the physical appearance of your property ready for viewings, there’s also a lot of documentation you can gather, which will mean that it’s market and sales-ready when the time comes.

Useful things to know before coming to market include:

  • The property leasehold
  • Ground rent
  • Service charges
  • Terms of the lease
  • What services are connected to the property, and whether they’re private or not

Are agents able to show people around properties?

For properties on the market, most agents will have an alternative way to conduct property viewings using new or more technology to enable prospective buyers to see everything about a property and ask questions while they’re unable to be there in person. We’ve developed a handy guide, which talks about some of the basics of a virtual viewing to help you prepare.

Have there been changes to mortgages?

The government instruction to lenders is to be as flexible as possible when it comes to mortgages and to speak to your broker or agent if you have concerns about how your mortgage might be impacted.

Certain lenders are currently moving away from mortgages with a larger loan-to-value ratio and focusing on supporting their existing borrowers during this period of uncertainty. Homeowners and landlords who already have a mortgage can apply for a payment holiday for up to three months to help alleviate the pressure of payments.

What is happening with exchange?

Exchanges are still being encouraged to go ahead, with a focus on flexible but delayed completions. The majority of the sales process can still be conducted while people are working from home, and any delays which you might experience are often typical of the sales process.
If you’re preparing to exchange, it’s important to keep communicating with your solicitor and estate agent regularly to try and exchange as smoothly as possible.

What is happening with completion?

The pressures of isolation may mean that completion on a property is more difficult. The Government is currently advising buyers and sellers to delay where possible, unless circumstances, such as death, divorce or debt, mean that this isn’t a feasible option.

If you are trying to complete during isolation, the majority of documents needed can be scanned or signed using a digital program. During this process, it’s important to note that all parties concerned need to be prepared to be flexible in their approach.

If you’re completing on a new build property, in most cases you should be able to proceed normally, while adhering to government guidelines. There is a level of ambiguity about moving into occupied properties, but the general advice is that if it is possible to delay your move, then do so.

Another concern is that completion dates will be impacted by the need to self isolate for a member of the chain. In these instances, the most important thing is that if someone has symptoms they should not be moving. Remember that issues with chain completion are normal and that most people are accommodating and happy to arrange a new completion date where possible.

What happens if your lease is up during lockdown?

Speak to your landlord well in advance of the date where the lease is up. If they are unwilling to renew the lease, but you don’t feel comfortable moving during the virus the best advice is to stay put and continue to pay your rent, no eviction from the property can take place for three months but communicating early can help avoid problems.

Government advice is that unless moving is unavoidable, the best thing to do is delay. If you were planning on moving into a new rental property, the best idea is to speak to your letting agents and try to establish whether you feel safe to do so.

Things to consider include:

  • Whether the property has been empty
  • Has the property been sanitised
  • Is moving going to put you or others at risk?

Can I move during lockdown?

Unless it’s unavoidable, government advice is to delay and find alternative dates for moving.

Most removal agents will be sympathetic if you have to cancel and can help support you when it is time to move.

If you are in the middle of trying to buy, rent or sell your property, contact Chewton Rose for all the support you need. All of our estate agents are committed to helping you. Contact your local branch by phone, or arrange a video call with one of our agents.