Estate agents told to 'immediately' reopen as England's housing market is unlocked

12 May 2020, 20:37

England's housing market is set to reopen with estate agents being allowed to resume house viewings
England's housing market is set to reopen with estate agents being allowed to resume house viewings. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Home viewings can immediately restart as the Housing Secretary reopens the property market and allows estate agents to return to work.

England's housing market has nearly ground to a halt in recent weeks because of delays caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

But under measures announced on Tuesday, show homes will be able to open back up to the public, while removal companies and other essential parts of the sales and letting process can restart with immediate effect.

Property experts have welcomed the move, adding that they planned on helping to release some of the paused demand in the market - with around £82 billion of transactions currently on hold.

Read more: England eases coronavirus lockdown with sunbathing and house sales allowed

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the government's 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."

Under previous rules to help limit the spread of coronavirus, moving house where it was reasonably necessary was one of a handful of valid excuses for people to be away from their homes.

However, amendments to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) regulations in England will extend the reasonable excuse to include undertaking a number of activities in connection with the purchase, sale, letting or rental of a residential property.

These now include:

- Visiting estate or letting agents, developer sales offices or show homes
- Viewing residential properties to look for a property to buy or rent
- Preparing a residential property to move in
- Moving home
- Visiting a residential property to undertake any activities required for the rental or sale of that property

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.

House hunters have been able to do "virtual viewings" online in recent weeks, but many may have been holding back from putting offers in until they could physically view a property.

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Some lenders also recently withdrew low-deposit mortgages from the market amid difficulties in valuing homes during the lockdown, although some new deals have come on to the market since.

Recent research by Savills found that, while prospective buyers at the top end of the market have become less committed to moving in the near term, the experience of Covid-19 has made them more determined to move within the next couple of years.

In a joint statement, David Cox, chief executive of ARLA (Association of Residential Letting Agents) Propertymark and Mark Hayward, chief executive of NAEA (National Association of Estate Agents) 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."

Ana Bajri, associate director of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics), said: "Rics has been working closely with Government and industry to get the market up and running while ensuring everyone who is involved in it is safe and secure, so this is a welcome announcement.

"We have contributed to current government advice, and over the coming days we will publish further practical guidance to support Rics professionals who play a critical role in the housing sector, specifically on physical inspections for mortgage valuations and home surveys."

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, said: "Over the past week or so many housebuilders have commenced a gradual return to work, in a structured way that ensures the safety of its workforce and the general public.

"The industry sustains hundreds of thousands of people in numerous roles and associated sectors, boosting local economies across the country. A resumption of work will play a major part in helping the economy recover as well as delivering the homes the country needs.

"It should also provide the supply chain with the confidence it needs to accelerate its own restart. The charter is the public-facing evidence which supports the very detailed protocols individual builders now have in place to ensure safe working on sites."

Jonathan Hopper, CEO of Garrington Property Finders, comments: “The eleventh-hour firing of the starting gun for estate agents will re-energise the property industry.

“For the next few days at least, the new motto for the sector will be ‘education education education’ as agents take a crash course in how to conduct socially distant viewings safely.

“The real question is what sort of market they will find as they pull up their shutters. The lockdown may have halted conventional viewings, but there are plenty of signs that some would-be buyers have used the past six weeks to window shop in earnest."

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