The housing market recovery could already be underway. That may be optimistic but it certainly looks set for a rapid post-pandemic revival. Early indicators are better than expected, with Rightmove reporting online property searches surging back to normal levels immediately after the government reopened the housing market last week. The property website told Landlord Today that within 24 hours of restrictions being lifted in England, almost 5.2 million visits were recorded. That’s up 4% on the same day last year and is the busiest day for enquiries since last September.
With effect from last Wednesday:
- estate agents’ offices are open
- viewings – whether virtual or in-person – are permitted
- show homes are open
- and removal companies and the other essential parts of the sales and letting process are re-started with immediate effect.
All good news. But it’s far from business as usual for agents and customers. With new government guidelines in place, potential buyers and sellers, as well as property agents, are having to rapidly adapt to a new normal.
Here’s what the government says. “In the first instance viewings should happen virtually. When viewings do happen in person, we’ve set out a clear plan to ensure the safety of those already in the property itself, those considering moving in and the estate agents and lettings agents”.
The new guidelines are that:
- Visits should be by appointment only. Open house viewings cannot take place and speculative viewings where buyers or tenants are not serious yet, are highly discouraged.
- All parties must follow strict social distancing guidelines.
- All internal doors should be opened where possible.
- The current occupier should vacate the property for the duration of the visit, going out for their daily exercise, going out to the shops or standing in the garden, if possible.
- Everyone involved in the process is advised to wash their hands on entering the property. And, once the viewing has taken place, all surfaces in the property including the door handles, should be thoroughly cleaned.
Miles Shipside from Rightmove thinks the guidelines are stringent but correct. The recovery of transaction volumes will rely on the fact that prospective buyers and existing and future sellers feel safe enough to get the market moving again, he says. We agree. Our Manchester-based lettings business Life by Ringley has adapted quickly to virtual viewings and they are now on offer to all our clients. We don’t see this changing and in fact, it may simply become the way we do business. It’s quick and easy and helps customers make a quick decision about whether or not they are interested in a particular property. Estate agents are rolling this out to their customers too and in a few years’ time, we will probably all wonder why we didn’t do it sooner!
It remains to be seen whether the surge in online interest from potential buyers will translate into a housing market recovery. If so, will we see new trends emerging towards out-of-town homes versus urban locations, as people fear that living cheek-by-jowl with others may increase their chances of catching a virus that shows no signs of simply going away? The next few months will be interesting, as well as challenging, for the housing market.