Can we expect a ‘lockdown lift-off’ in the housing market? HMRC released figures yesterday for property transactions in April. As expected, sales for the month were a staggering 53.4% down on the same month last year and 46.1% lower than in March. However, as we blogged earlier in the week, there is an expectation out there that the market will quickly recover to pre-pandemic levels.
Agent Knight Frank says the number of enquiries they received last week was the highest it has been in a year and 8% above the previous peak in early February. The agency is even predicting a possible ‘lockdown lift-off’ to follow the ‘Boris Bounce’ felt in the market earlier this year!
Upward movement in the housing market drives demand and that, in turn, means more houses must be built. So how are housebuilders coping with their new normal? The government has issued guidelines for construction sites, aiming to keep Britain building. Last week more flexible working hours were announced for construction sites to ensure safe working and social distancing. In residential areas, where appropriate, sites can stay open until 9pm every day except Sunday; in non-residential areas they can stay open for longer. This makes it easier to stagger working hours, taking the pressure off public transport.
Housebuilders are relieved to get back to work, although some companies have already been forced to lay off staff during the lockdown. But there are good news stories out there. The one we really like is that developer Taylor Wimpey is offering a discount of 5% on new homes to NHS staff and care workers in recognition of the massive contribution that front line staff continue to make during the health crisis.
There may also be good news for anyone trying to negotiate the planning system. Departments are now being encouraged to make more use of digital technology to help them operate remotely and efficiently during the pandemic.
So the silver lining in the Covid cloud may be that this crisis provides the impetus that was needed to improve the whole process. With the planning inspectorate now undertaking its first-ever virtual hearings, once services resume fully, planning departments may be made permanently more accessible and user-friendly. And that can only be a good thing.