The majority of home-seekers are determined to plough ahead with their property transactions once lockdown restrictions are eased, new findings show.
Ninety-four per cent of buyers and sellers surveyed in research by property website Rightmove said they want to get their property deal moving when the housing sector is taken off the leash.
As lockdown has transformed living and working arrangements, a growing number of workers who have been working from home are looking to vacate cities like London and Edinburgh in favour of more rural areas.
The property market was showing strong signs of a post-election surge before the coronavirus crisis hit in March with Nationwide data yesterday showing house prices in April rising by an annual 3.7 per cent.
But it is now is stalled, with mortgage deals curbed, estate agents closed, viewings cancelled and moves postponed.
However, estate agents claim that most completions and moves are being postponed rather than cancelled, and virtual house tours, like the one shown above, are on the rise as would-be buyers browse what’s on offer while holed up at home.
‘I hope to move in as soon as possible’
Buyer Claire Dugdill, 35, is keen to get her move done
Claire Dugdill, 35, an estate agent manager, is buying a £122,000 two-bedroom semi-detached home with one bathroom in Atherton, where she was born and currently lives.
Ms Dugdill viewed the property before lockdown and paid for searches to be carried out on 31 March. As a result of lockdown, she is still waiting for the results of those searches to come through, but her mortgage offer has been issued.
The whole process is taking longer than expected due to lockdown, but Ms Dugdill said contact from the estate agent involved and the seller has been prompt and helpful so far. ‘It seems everyone wants to get the deal done’, she said.
Ms Dugdill told This is Money: ‘I have lived with my father and jointly owned my current property with my dad for 10 years. Circumstances have now changed and his partner is moving in and I am buying on my own.
‘I hope to move into my property as soon as possible, exciting times ahead.’
Getting the deal done
Of nearly 800 buyers and sellers, Rightmove said that 94 per cent claim their transaction looks set to go ahead post-lockdown.
Most homes listed on the property site’s website have remained intact, and stock levels are reportedly down by just 2 or 3 per cent since lockdown started.
One in ten said their transaction was going ahead as planned, while over half said their plans were postponed, but on track to continue after lockdown.
Once lockdown kicked in, Rightmove saw the number of visiting browsing homes on its website fall by 40 per cent, but this has been recovering ‘slowly’ in the last few weeks. This week the number of people looking up homes for sale on the group’s site has risen by 20 per cent above levels seen in the first few days of lockdown.
Miles Shipside, Rightmove’s commercial director, said: ‘The resolve of buyers and sellers to carry on with their sale is clear, whether it’s those who are going through the conveyancing process already or those who currently have their home on the market or who want to buy when lockdown ends.’
While Rightmove remains upbeat, an estimated 373,000 property transactions with a total value of £82billion have been put on hold due to the lockdown.
In a bid to get the property market moving, the sector is coming up with novel ways to ensure the market can progress in line with social distancing guidelines.
Would-be buyers can now often find online virtual tours of the property they are looking to buy, which in some cases could be an improvement on the conventional still images prevalent before lockdown.
Alistair Brown International Real Estate, pointed to new technologies such as Resivue which act like a digital sales brochure.
He said: ‘This app in particular allows consumers to view a property through 3D tours and floorplans, connect with estate agents via live chat and has the ability to showcase any home, update property details and put it on the market in minutes.’
Once in-person viewings get going again, open houses could be scrapped and a strict one-in-one-out policy looks set to emerge.
But possibly the main post-lockdown sticking point will be price – or valuation. Many buyers, assuming house price data turns negative, will look to reduce their offers, while sellers will struggle even more than normal to put an accurate value on their property.
This could at the least lead to delays in getting to the stage of exchange.
But, in a sign that the sector is readying itself for a revival, a spokeswoman for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors told This is Money that it is writing a new set of guidelines for valuers across the UK and hopes to release them imminently.
Seeking permanent isolation?
Since lockdown started, the commute has become a pleasingly distant memory for many – while those holed up in one-bedroom flats without a garden are probably longing for more space.
So it’s unsurprising that a growing number of potential buyers seem set to ditch big cities like London, Birmingham or Edinburgh in favour of quieter, more rural and isolated locations.
At this point a year ago, just over 40 per cent of Londoners getting in touch with estate agents about were looking to move outside the capital. Since lockdown, this figure has risen to 51 per cent, according to Rightmove’s latest findings.
There seems to be a similar trend growing in Edinburgh, where 60 per cent of residents are now looking to move outside the city, up from 53 per cent at the same time a year ago.
Out of favour: Since lockdown, more people are looking to move out of cities like London
A similar picture is also emerging in Birmingham, where half of residents looking to buy a new home are now looking outside of the city, up from around 45 per cent at the same point last year.
Cities like Liverpool, Sheffield, Glasgow and Bristol are starting to see the same pattern emerge.
Rightmove’s Mr Shipside said: ‘There’s been a notable shift during lockdown of more people contemplating out-of-city moves.’
Reece Giles, a manager at Douglas Allen estate agents in Brentwood, said: ‘Interest has kind of gone through the roof, really.’
Meanwhile, Helen Burley, sales manager at Fine & Country in Woldingham, said: ‘We’ve definitely seen a trend of people moving from the city to live in our village.
‘The people that we’ve been speaking with since lockdown who want to move from London absolutely can’t wait to move to the village.’
Of course, it remains to be seen how much of this pent-up desire among buyers to go rural comes to fruition once lockdown restrictions are lifted, and in all probability, for most, the drudging reality of the commute kicks in.
Shock surge in house prices for lockdown April – but prices likely to fall
House prices ‘unexpectedly’ increased in April despite the coronavirus lockdown, figures from Nationwide suggested on Friday.
The average cost of a home across the country rose by 0.7 per cent over the month, and was up 3.7 per cent annually. At a record high of £222,915, the average house price is more than £3,330 above its level a year ago.
But Nationwide’s chief economist warned the outlook for the market remains ‘highly uncertain’, and the figures need to be treated with caution, as they are based on mortgage approval data that’s largely for applications made before lockdown.
With economic uncertainty mounting and a growing number of people falling into hard times or losing their jobs, the EY Item Club expects average house prices to fall by around 5 per cent in the next few months.
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