The U.K. government has today announced their plans for restarting the housing market effective immediately, amending coronavirus regulations and issuing new guidance confirming that private residential buyers and renters in England are now able to take part in viewings and move home as long as they follow social distancing advice. Property agencies are allowed to reopen offices while removal and conveyancing firms will also be able to resume activities from today onwards.
After almost two months under COVID-19 lockdown, this is exciting news for everyone with a vested interest in the revival of the property industry. During the lockdown there has been a build-up of almost £82-billion worth of property deals in pipeline, and the moving plans of approximately 450,000 buyers and renters have been put on hold. The signal is green for this pent-up demand to finally shift.
The guidance can be read in full here. But it should be noted that this guidance currently only applies to England. The devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are yet to adopt similar amendments to the regulations governing their housing markets at time of writing.
On the new guidance, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: ‘Our clear plan will enable people to move home safely, covering each aspect of the sales and letting process from viewings to removals. Our step-by-step plan is based on the latest guidance to ensure the safety and protection of everyone involved. This critical industry can now safely move forward, and those waiting patiently to move can now do so.’
Moving forwards safely
Understandably the main priority should remain the assurance of the health and safety of all participants. This is not a straightforward return to normality. The new guidance maintains that members of the public, property agents, conveyancers and movers maintain at least a 2-metre distance when meeting with people who are not part of your household and washing hands frequently to help prevent spread of the coronavirus.
When it comes to viewing properties, the government recommends that the public continues to utilize virtual viewings before visiting a property in person where possible, in order to minimise public health risks; vacating your current property whilst other people are shown around; and ensuring your property is thoroughly cleaned before someone else moves in.
Below is a summary of the guidance on viewing and moving homes:
· Initial viewings should be done virtually wherever this is possible and property agents should help you to do this.
· All physical viewings should be limited to members of the same household and open house viewings should not take place.
· When physically viewing properties, where possible, you should avoid touching surfaces, wash your hands regularly, and bring your own hand sanitiser. The number of people on a viewing should be minimised to those from your household that absolutely have to be there. If you need to be accompanied by small children, you should try to keep them from touching surfaces and ensure they wash their hands regularly.
· If people are being shown around your current home, you should open all internal doors and ensure surfaces, such as door handles, are cleaned after each viewing with standard household cleaning products.
· As most people choose to, we recommend that you vacate your property whilst viewings are taking place in order to minimise your contact with those not in your household.
· Anyone involved in any aspect of the home moving process should practice social distancing in line with public health advice.
· When moving between properties, you and those in your household should try to do as much of the packing yourself as you can. Where this is not possible, you should speak to removal firms in advance.
· If you are particularly worried about the risk of infection, then speak to the professionals involved, your landlord, estate agent or removers as they may be able to put in place extra measures.
Consult your agency for advice
The announcement of this new guidance came very much out of the blue and was a surprise for those of us not anticipating the revival of the property market until June 1 at the earliest, but estate and lettings agents will from today be carefully adapting their offices to prevent the spread of coronavirus following the government’s new guidelines to safely conduct customer business on their premises. They are also available online and over the phone, and many of them will now be returning from furlough to resume their essential service so now is a vital time for buyers and renters to check in with their agencies to utilize their expertise and get the ball rolling, or indeed re-rolling, on their property moves.
Embrace available virtual and remote viewing services
Where engagement and property viewings can be done virtually, I would recommend this approach as much as feasibly possible. We have done much to flatten the curve and protect lives over the past months and it is important to maintain our health and safety momentum.
We are certainly particularly fortunate to live in a time where remote and virtual viewing technology that buyers and renters can take advantage of is readily available. Before physically viewing a property, buyers and renters should consult with their agent on whether it is possible to see a digital floorplan, or to undertake virtual viewings that can be as detailed as a 3D-mapped and controllable walkthrough of a property, which is available 24/7. Live video tours are also fantastic if there is someone already present within the property – a process in practice that is already quite popular amongst the renting community. PropTech suppliers such as Focal.Agent are specialists at providing no-contact video touring and virtual viewing tools, available via many estate agents throughout the U.K., enabling high-quality remote viewings from within the safety of one’s own home – a valuable resource for minimalizing any health risks.
Keep on keeping on
The level of pent-up demand in the market is clear today as Rightmove reported a 45% surge in visits on the portal, with over 2,115 new property listings in the first six hours of returning to business and a 70% increase of email enquiries to agents. At this point many people are no doubt itching for a change of pace after months under lockdown, but there is still much concern over the state of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.K. So for the time being, let’s retain all the good health and safety habits that are an essential part of our ‘new normal’, such as digital contact as a first stop and 2-metre distancing when together, whilst embracing the opportunity the new guidelines are affording us to get on with life. So many sacrifices have been made by all of us these past two months as we were clawing our way back to life before coronavirus – let’s not drop the ball in this transition period and have it all have been for naught.