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Are COVID-19 Health Fears and Social Distancing Holding Back Housing Market Recovery?

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Housing market recovery

Iain McKenzie, CEO of The Guild of Property Professionals, runs the rule over the housing market recovery, and emphasises the need for a good estate agent

The English housing market was given the green light nearly a month ago but are people as quick to move as expected, or are many still putting off moving homes due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Although there are government guidelines in place for moving homes and we have seen surges in activity throughout most sectors, according to consumer research, around a third of people are still holding back moving due to social distancing and health concerns – this is impacting the housing market recovery. 

As long as strict guidelines are followed, it is safe to move home, however, it is understandable that many consumers still have concerns and are not quite ready to jump back into the market.  

It is important to understand the psychology of buyers and sellers at the moment. Just under four weeks ago the government was saying “stay home and stay safe”. Then on May 13 – with just 24 hours’ notice – the property market was given the go-ahead and people were told it was permissible to sell their property and invite strangers into their home. One can understand the confusion; in the early stages, it must have felt a bit counter-intuitive to people to have their place of refuge opened to people they didn’t know. 

Getting it right in the early stages 

What can people do if they want to move but are concerned? If consumers do have concerns about health or social distancing but want to start looking for properties, they should consider working agents who have virtual tools at their disposal. The government guidelines released on May 12 stipulate that in the first instance people should virtually transact with their agent. 

This should include the valuation stage and getting advice from the agent regarding how much the property is worth to sell or to let. And when the person selects an agent they want to work with based on who they get along with and their guidelines for safety, they should conduct the first stage of viewings virtually as well. 

There is very clear evidence that shows that during the early stages, particularly with lettings, buyers and tenants will make a decision on whether a property is right based on a virtual viewing. They won’t quite make the commitment to buy solely based on virtual viewing, but they will be able to dismiss the ones that aren’t suitable for them.

While virtual viewings are an excellent tool for narrowing down the property search, most would still want to see a property in person before making the commitment buy a home. The digital world cannot replace the feeling someone gets when they walk into a property and know it is the one for them. There is evidence that people would let a property solely on a virtual viewing, as letting a property is far less of a commitment, however, when it comes to sales the vast majority will want to walk into a home in person first before they sign on the dotted line. 

Agents of change

What should consumers be seeking for in an agent if they are looking to move? While most people usually go to the major portals to search for property, they should also have a look at the individual estate agent’s website. See if they have virtual tools in place for valuations and viewings, and most importantly during the current climate, do they have coronavirus-safe guidelines on their website? Have a look at how the agent is representing themselves in terms of the guidelines and the actions they are taking to ensure that their customers and the community around them are safe. It is imperative that they are conducting all valuations and viewings safety and protecting all parties involved.

There are cases where a property is occupied by tenants and the landlord is insisting on physical viewings of the property, however, according to legislation, every tenant has the right to quiet enjoyment. If a tenant does not want a person coming to the property to view, the landlord cannot insist upon it and will have to conduct virtual viewings. There may be reasons why the tenant does not want people to come to the property; they might be shielding or have health concerns and are self-isolating because they are showing symptoms. 

It is paramount that there is communication between the tenant and the agent or landlord so that they can make arrangements that suit both parties. It could be a matter of the tenant shooting a video of the property or the agent using a tool to conduct a virtual viewing based on the listing images, which we know in lettings does have a good impact. 

Positive signs

Despite health concerns and many still furloughed or uncertain about the future of their jobs, the housing market has remained robust and has bounced back remarkably well. Currently actual activity is around 75 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels with regards to properties coming to the market and properties being let. In terms of enquiries coming in from sellers, buyers and tenants, levels are at pre-COVID-19 levels and are higher than they have been for some time.

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