Homes sold via 'Whatsapp and Zoom': How property markets are changing in Covid-19 crisis

13 May 2020, 16:03

Estate agent shows how virtual house viewings can be done

By Kate Buck

Estate agents have explained how houses will be bought and sold during the coronavirus lockdown, including virtual sales, with one agent who said his firm was selling properties via Whatsapp and Zoom calls.

The housing market in England opened up again on Wednesday, with the government saying house viewings can go ahead as long as social distancing rules are obeyed.

Estate agents around England have said they have so far been able to allow prospective buyers and renters to view homes over video chat, and some have even been able to close sales on homes during lockdown.

Amir Rafiai from Next Chapter Estate agents in Brentwood said the government's decision to reopen the housing market brought "a little bit of light relief" to the current situation.

"I think we've been frozen in time", he said of the lockdown, and added his company would be continuing to use technology they've adapted to in recent weeks.

He added: "Would you believe that during lockdown we've sold a number of properties through Whatsapp video calls and Zoom calls. That for many people would have bene unimaginable for many.

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"Those virtual viewings we're going to continue with, even as lockdown restrictions start to be lifted."

Under government guidelines which came into force last night, show homes were allowed to open back up while removal companies and other essential parts of the sales and letting process were told to restart.

Many estate agents are now figuring out how to adapt their work to ensure they don't put clients at risk of contracting Covid-19.

Ben Hulme, from Rent Wirral told LBC News: "Obviously health and safety is paramount.

“What we plan to do is provide hand sanitiser to tenants who are viewing the properties so they wash their hands on their way into the property.

“We will be at a safe distance and have zero contact with them, the property will have been opened up prior to them arriving.

“They’ll be advised not to touch anything and we will lock up and clean down the property afterwards.

Amir Rafiai says the decision to open England's housing market brought some "light relief
Amir Rafiai says the decision to open England's housing market brought some "light relief. Picture: LBC News
Ben Hulme says his company will be ensuring they don't come into contact with their clients
Ben Hulme says his company will be ensuring they don't come into contact with their clients. Picture: LBC News

“As far as move-ins are concerned, we will meet the tenant at the property, arriving 15 minutes before and will leave the paperwork on the kitchen surface, leave the property and video call them from the car outside to discuss any legalities with the paperwork, and then they will return the forms to us in an envelope outside the property at a safe distance, and they will be left to continue their move-in.”

The news that moving house has also been allowed is likely to bring some relief to those whose plans were put on hold due to the lockdown.

According to property website Zoopla, around 373,000 property transactions across the UK, with a total value of £82 billion, have been put on hold due to lockdown measures.

A socially-distanced house move

Sally Burdett from Leeds has been trying to move house with her partner and two small children for the past two years, and feared her plans could collapse when lockdown came into force.

But she has now been told her move can go ahead, so they are having to make the best of it whilst trying to adhere to social distancing.

Sally Burdett from Leeds is figuring out how to move home during the pandemic
Sally Burdett from Leeds is figuring out how to move home during the pandemic. Picture: LBC News

"We would have normally had help from family and friends, but obviously that hasn't been possible, so we've managed to find one removals firm to help us," she said.

"They have advised us that they will try and social distance as much as possible, what they've asked us to do it put all our boxes and small things in the drive, and then when it comes to bigger items, they'll ask us to move rooms".

Sally added that she has got extra hand sanitiser and things ready for them, and the removals workers will be wearing PPE to ensure both they and the family are protected as much as possible.

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Some buyers have been warned they may face "fresh agony" as they wonder if they should still go ahead with plans they had made before the lockdown.

Sarah Coles, a personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: "Buying a property is immensely stressful at the best of times, so having the whole process frozen part of the way through has been excruciating. Even now the housing market has re-opened in England, there's plenty of fresh agony to come."

She said some people who had been about to make a purchase may be wondering what is going to happen to house prices - and whether that means they should still go ahead.

Ms Coles added: "However, there are five questions you can ask yourself, so you can be sure that whatever the outcome, you made the right decision for your own circumstances."

Questions buyers should ask:

1. Have I over-stretched myself - and therefore is this a good opportunity to avoid a mistake?

In a rising market, it is tempting to push your budget to the limit. If you felt under pressure to offer more than you could really afford, or if your circumstances have changed as a result of the crisis, the purchase may not make sense any more.

2. Would I rather live somewhere else - and does this give me the chance to do so?

Every house purchase is a compromise, but if you made compromises you will struggle to live with because you could not afford what you wanted, a falling market could push more attractive properties into your price range.

3. What is the cost of pulling out - and is it worth it?

If you have already exchanged contracts, the losses could be really substantial. Before you exchange, there could still be significant costs. If you have done searches and paid surveyors and lawyers, you could lose thousands of pounds. Even at the early stages, if you are a first-time buyer, this could end up costing you thousands of pounds more in rent if you go back to the drawing board. Before you make any decisions, calculate what you stand to lose.

4. Am I planning to be in the property for a while - in which case do price falls really matter?

It is only natural to worry about falling prices - and the risk that you will pay over the odds. However, this matters far more if it is somewhere you will be selling in a couple of years, so you end up with less than you started with - and even risk falling into negative equity. If you intend to live there for a reasonable period, there is every chance prices will have recovered when you come to sell.

5. Am I prepared to risk losing this property?

If you really want to buy the property, but you would like a price reduction to protect you from future price falls, you could consider contacting the seller through the estate agent and open negotiations. You may get a reduction of some kind.

But any time you try to negotiate, you need to be prepared for them to refuse and take their chances back on the market. If this is the home of your dreams, you need to be certain you are prepared to risk this.

Additional reporting by PA