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Moving house: Everything you need to know as lockdown eases

The property market has officially reopened for business after the Government said estate agents could restart viewings and home moves could go ahead again.

Almost half-a-million property transactions that had stalled in lockdown can restart from today, while sellers can brave the market and buyers can go house hunting again.

But it’s far from business as usual. Official guidance strongly advises online viewings where possible and warns that buying and selling a home will not return to ‘normal’ in England.

So, can you get a stalled move back on track, visit that property you’ve been eyeing up online, or even get an agent round to value your home for sale? We answer the crucial property market restart questions. 

The Staunton family were looking to move to a bigger place near the children’s school but pulled out during lockdown: Elaine, 40, Harriet, 6, James, 42, and Charles, 3

What are the rules on restarting the property market?

The property market restart will be welcome news for the estimated 450,000 buyers and sellers stuck in property limbo, according to government figures, who will now be able to exchange contracts and complete on purchases. 

They had been advised not to do this in lockdown: to only move if essential and if that was into an empty property. 

Surveyors and agents were also not allowed to visit properties, stalling mortgage valuations, building surveys and thwarting evaluations and viewings. 

Crucially, surveyors will now be permitted to go to properties to do mortgage valuations and building surveys for prospective buyers. 

Agents can also reopen high street premises, do valuations, photos and floorplans, list properties for sale and do physical viewings.

But guidance published on the Government’s website warns this cannot be the same format as before the coronavirus lockdown – and social distancing must be observed.

My home was already for sale, how do I continue?

If your home was already on the market, contact your estate agent to find out how they’re approaching restarting viewings. 

Sean Herdman-Low, senior negotiator at Banbury-based estate agent Maxwell's says viewings will only be done in person where sellers are completely comfortable

Sean Herdman-Low, senior negotiator at Banbury-based estate agent Maxwell’s says viewings will only be done in person where sellers are completely comfortable

Many have said already that they are prepared to do physical viewings from today, following the guidance released by Government last night.

There are strict guidelines, however. 

You’ll need to be out of the house while people are viewing it. Social distancing rules still apply and many agents are saying that all parties will need to wear masks and gloves while in a property.

Virtual viewings will still be used initially and you’ll need to ensure your property is thoroughly cleaned before someone else moves in. 

Be prepared to expect delayed moves if someone involved gets coronavirus and no-one should be moving into any home where people have coronavirus or are self-isolating.

I’m seeing a property on Monday

Hammond: Looking to buy an investment property in Hastings

Hammond: Looking to buy an investment property in Hastings

Alex Hammond, 39 and boss of his own firm Also Communications, has been offered a viewing this Friday. 

He and his wife are looking to buy an investment property in Hastings.

‘We were sent the details of one we liked the look of on Monday and expressed our interest. 

‘Initially they said we were unable to undertake a physical inspection, but the estate agent contacted me last night suggesting a viewing on Friday. 

‘We can’t make Friday so are going to view the property on Monday. We have been asked to wear masks and gloves for the viewing.’

Will I need to get my home revalued? 

There’s been a lot of talk about the effect of lockdown on house prices, so be prepared for a conversation about your asking price with the estate agent.

If you want to sell quickly then you might be wise to downgrade your expectations. Forecasts of price falls range from 5 per cent, by Lloyds Banking Group, to 7 per cent, from Knight Frank, 13 per cent by economists at Cebr and up to 16 per cent by the Bank of England. 

That said, estate agents are expecting a surge in enquiries from prospective buyers so, depending on the condition and location of your property, there may be sufficient interest to support your original asking price. 

Indeed, Rightmove said this morning it’s seen a 45 per cent increase in visits to its website today compared to yesterday. Your estate agent will be able to advise you on the best approach to take. 

Just remember that even though people might be window shopping, they may not want to commit to actually buying or be able to do so – and they may struggle to sell their home. 

How will home-buying and selling be different?  

The Government guidance says: ‘The process of finding and moving into a new home will need to be different given those involved in the process will have to adapt practices and procedures to ensure that the risk of spread of coronavirus is reduced as far as possible.

‘This will include doing more of the process online, such as virtual initial viewings; vacating your current property whilst other people are shown around; and ensuring your property is thoroughly cleaned before someone else moves in.

‘We encourage all parties involved to be as flexible as possible over this period and be prepared to delay moves, for example if someone becomes ill with coronavirus during the moving process or has to self-isolate.’

The Government has also warned that it may ‘become necessary to pause all home moves for a short period of time’ again to manage the spread of the coronavirus. 

Estate agent industry body boss, Mark Hayward, of NAEA Propertymark said he was ‘pleased’ with the housing announcements so far, adding: ‘The return to work needs to be done in a safe and practical way.’ 

Can I start viewing properties this weekend?

You can start viewing properties now, if you want to buy, but that is within pretty strict guidelines.

 Whether you can view a property in person will depend on whether there is an agent available to conduct the viewing and also on whether the person selling is happy to have people into their home. 

It’s unlikely that a huge rush of people will be comfortable having a string of strangers through their home at the moment, but if properties are empty or vendors are happy to be out while the viewing takes place, it may well be possible.  

Should I ask the seller for money off? 

Many buyers who have agreed a purchase but not exchanged contracts will now feel that the market has changed completely.

With 7.5million people furloughed, 2 million mortgage holidays applied for, 2 million more people claiming unemployment benefits and pay cuts widespread, that’s understandable.

Buying agent Henry Pryor says: ‘The initial buyers prepared to commit in June and July will, I expect, feel like they are taking a risk that house prices will fall between now and Christmas so they will want something for that risk they feel they are taking. 

‘They’d like a 20 per cent discount, but they will accept a 5 to 10 per cent discount, so the first house price reports post Covid-19 I think will be 5 to 10 per cent down.’

However, he warns buyers to tread carefully and gives his tips on whether to reduce your offer here .

Sean Herdman-Low, senior negotiator at Maxwell’s Estate Agents in Banbury, says: ‘As well as getting the housing market and the economy back on track, the most important thing for us is to make sure that we are all safe, including staff and all clients. 

‘We will be working with all of our vendors to set up safe ways of conducting viewings and only if they are comfortable to do so. 

‘We have got gloves and masks for everyone to use and will of course be ensuring social distancing rules are followed throughout.’ 

He adds that virtual viewings are also going to remain in place and have a vital role to play for some time to come. 

‘They have proved very popular and easy to do,’ he says. 

‘We will be aiming to do them on most of our properties from now on and ensure they look professional. We know from our marketing that videos get brilliant engagement online and on social media so it makes sense to continue with this. 

‘We have had some real successes with virtual tours with a sale being agreed and houses coming to the market totally virtually.’ 

Maxwell's Estate Agents in Banbury plans to restart viewings safely where sellers want to

Maxwell’s Estate Agents in Banbury plans to restart viewings safely where sellers want to

I agreed to buy before lockdown – can we can move?  

If you already agreed to buy a home, your solicitor may have advised you not to exchnage contracts and set a completion date, as at that point you are locked in.

You could now exchange and set a moving date, but you’ll need to find a removal firm willing to do the move if you need help.

Many prospective buyers are likely to now want to renegotiate on the price they previously agreed, as they feel house prices have fallen and their finances may have taken a knock. 

Joanne Robinson, 40, is a property lawyer who has been renting in London

Joanne Robinson, 40, is a property lawyer who has been renting in London

Joanne Robinson, 40, is a property lawyer who has been renting in London and has bought a property in Amersham to be closer to her work in Beaconsfield.

Before the housing market froze she had a sale agreed but had not exchanged contracts.

However, she managed to exchange on April 28 and now has a moving date set for May 29.

She says: ‘Despite all this disruption I am absolutely determined to move ahead with this purchase and push things through.

‘Moving from central London to Amersham is crucial for my work and the home I have bought is absolutely perfect for my needs now. Keeping in close dialogue with the current owner is helping to keep things alive and kicking.’

She has successfully secured a removal firm and says it will be a relief once she is in her new home. 

I want to buy but haven’t got a mortgage agreed – can I now apply?

Most mortgage brokers and lenders have been able to conduct interviews and conversations over the phone or online already. 

Banks and building societies have also been making mortgage offers, although much fewer than before lockdown.

I Banbury-based mortgage broker Vantage Mortgages says it has remained busy throughout the lockdown.

‘We pulled out and won’t move now’ 

James Staunton, 42, lives with his wife and two children in Farnham, Surrey and decided to pull out of his move as lockdown started. 

James pictured with Charles, aged 3

James pictured with Charles, aged 3

‘We were set to buy a larger property nearer to the kids’ school, albeit in the same town. But we were worried my earnings might be pruned in the downturn and that my wife’s hours might get cut back. 

‘That proved pretty prescient and we’re now glad we didn’t overstretch ourselves. In fact, we used some of the war chest we’d accumulated for the move to pay down 10 per cent of the mortgage on our current property. 

‘That’s made the monthly payments much easier to stomach. We’ve pulled out and we’re happy with that decision.’

Adam Messer, who heads up the firm, says: ‘Mortgage lenders have remained open throughout and rates are still as low as they have been for a long time. 

‘Demand has stayed strong with clients still needing to remortgage and purchase applications going in to lenders.’ 

Many mortgage lenders had curbed their willingness to offer new mortgages, especially to those with a smaller deposit. 

But now that surveyors are allowed into properties to conduct mortgage valuations, it’s possible they’ll be more comfortable offering mortgages from now on.  

Jeni Browne, director of mortgage broker Mortgages for Business, said: ‘Mortgage lenders and, indeed mortgage brokers, are open for new applications so there is nothing to stop you getting a mortgage agreement in principle. 

‘Likewise, having an agreement is not a prerequisite to viewing property but you will find it hard to get an offer accepted without one.’

An agreement in principle is usually quick to obtain – sometimes even instant – so if you jumped on this today, you may be able to lock into a super cheap deal as rates are at their lowest ever at the moment. 

However, experts are also warning that pent-up demand could see mortgages take longer to get sorted.

‘We recommend that buyers get their finances in order as soon as possible as processing times may take longer than usual as lenders deal with a flurry of applications,’ says Chris Sykes, a mortgage broker for Private Finance.

‘There is still limited availability of high loan-to-value mortgages at 90 per cent and above and those heavily reliant on bonuses or commission may need to widen their search of lender, but this is where expert advice is extremely valuable.’ 

This is Money’s mortgage finder calculator can help you see what rates could be available to you .

My sale stalled because the mortgage lender couldn’t do a valuation done – will it happen now?

Some banks and building societies have already announced that their valuers are going to be carrying out physical inspections as soon as possible, albeit within certain guidelines. 

In that case, there is a chance a valuation could be imminent. However, not all lenders have made this decision so it may be worth just checking whether going to a new lender could expedite matters for you. 

Virtual valuations are becoming more widely accepted by mortgage lenders

Virtual valuations are becoming more widely accepted by mortgage lenders

If the property is more specialist – say where a landlord is looking to buy an HMO, house in multiple occupation – a physical survey has to take place. 

‘We may still be a few weeks away from getting the application unstuck in that type of instance,’ says Browne. 

‘Speak to your broker who will be able to keep you up to date as the market opens up and can advise whether there are alternative lenders who can move quicker for you.’ 

Because no physical valuations have taken place since 23 March, there is going to be a big backlog to deal with so be patient. 

There will be delays to all sales but with mortgage valuations in person now permitted, transactions that have gone awry will slowly get back on track.  

‘The timing around valuation will depend somewhat on how much you want to borrow and whether your mortgage can be based on an automatic or desktop valuation,’ says Browne. 

‘There will inevitably be a backlog as valuers start to get back out so if you will need a physical valuation so I’d would advise getting into the queue as soon as possible.’

‘I’m worried about house prices’ 

Poppy Low, 72, lives in Harrogate and wants to move south to be close to family

Poppy Low, 72, lives in Harrogate and wants to move south to be close to family

Poppy Low, 72 and retired, lives in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. With one son living in London with her grandson and another based in Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, she’s been hoping to move for the past six months so she can be nearer her family. 

Lockdown stopped her from putting her home on the market earlier this year. 

‘I’m feeling a lot more upbeat about things now that the government has said we can move, although I am still a bit worried about house prices. 

‘I’ve been on Rightmove practically every day during lockdown but there’s no new properties and also – how am I meant to know whether the prices they were asking for before the lockdown are still fair? 

‘It’s really hard to know what to do.’

Poppy is hoping to come down to stay for a week with her son Sean and his partner Tim, in Chipping Norton, so she can view properties.

‘I really want to get cracking with this move – I want to be nearer my family in the south of England and spend valuable time with my grandson. But I must say, it’s still a bit confusing. Especially with my age – I don’t know whether I should still be self-isolating?’

Poppy has already been in touch with her estate agent and has been told she can do virtual viewings of properties she might want to buy. 

‘It’s something, but it’s not really enough if I’m going to buy a house – I really need to have been round it.’ 

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