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Property Market During Coronavirus Questions And Answers

With the current coronavirus outbreak, and many changes over the last few months many buyers, sellers and renters are naturally uncertain about how to move forward in the current property market.

We’ve tried our best to answer the most important questions, but if you have more get in touch with the team from haart. We might be working from home, but we’re still here and happy to help.

What is the property market like at the moment?

Despite all the disruption, the property market is not dead. The first few months of the year have been positive and busy for the industry, and structurally this hasn’t changed. While there are challenges that need to be overcome, and new ways of working, which needs to be adopted, there are still plenty of people looking for a new home.  Since the easing of lockdown, there has been high demand from buyers and sellers to move.  

Interest rates have been reduced to a record low of 0.1 per cent by the Bank of England, meaning that mortgages are more affordable and repayment rates will be lower.

The property industry has adapted already to find new ways of working whilst staying safe during the lockdown. New technology means agents can conduct virtual viewings to generate interest for listed properties, then those that would like an in-person viewing can arrange one. 

Similarly, alternatives for signing contracts, like using video calls as a means of witnessing signatures and scanning signed contracts as an alternative for people who don’t want to post them are all helping for business to be conducted. Measures have also been introduced so that regulators and lenders can now accept scanned photographs, meaning that certified copies of ID are no longer required.

As of the 13th May 2020 the housing market in England has been able to open up within the social distancing guidelines, as a result we have plans in place for staying safe which you can read here.  Regulations allow viewings to take place where it is safe to do so and updated regulations regarding these changes can be found here.   

On the 22nd June 2020, Wales eased some measures so the property market can partially reopen including valuation taking place and viewings of unoccupied properties.  Full guidance on this is here.

Should I take my house off the market?

If your house is already listed then there is no need to take it off the market unless you feel this is the right thing to do. Given the circumstances, there are still plenty of searches happening and lots of enquiries being made.  These enquiries have increased since the housing market changes within the social distancing guidelines came into force which is a great sign for sellers.   

Many people looking to move for various reasons will still be shortlisting properties and making plans for when normality resumes. Keeping your property on the market and allowing agents to conduct virtual viewings can help generate an interest in your property while physical viewings can’t take place.

It’s also important to remember that you can accept offers from prospective buyers during this time.

Should I put my house on the market?

Now activity for the housing market is resuming, it's a great time to put your house on the market.  Since the easing of measures we have had a high demand from buyers and sellers for properties so if you are looking to move, there are lots of motivated buyers out there looking for a property as well.  We still offer virtual valuations and viewings if you are unsure of having an agent round for a valuation at first.  Our agents are still largely working from home as we can, to avoid unnecessary contact with others and have our Stay Safe process in place.  

If you’re still in the early stages of trying to sell your house, it’s still worth speaking to your agents. They might tell you to hold fire on listing your property, and instead get it ready for sale. As well as improving the physical appearance of your property ready for viewings, there’s also a lot of documentation you can gather, which will mean that it’s market and sales-ready when the time comes.

Useful things to know before coming to market include:

  • The property leasehold
  • Ground rent
  • Service charges
  • Terms of the lease
  • What services are connected to the property, and whether they’re private or not

Are agents able to show people around properties?

Agents should conduct virtual viewings in the first instance, to avoid too many viewers going round the same property.  Virtual viewings is a great way to conduct property viewings using new or more technology to enable prospective buyers to see everything about a property and ask questions while they’re unable to be there in person. We’ve developed a handy guide, which talks about some of the basics of a virtual viewing to help you prepare. 

If you are still interested in the property following a virtual viewing, we can arrange viewings in-person and we do so following our Stay Safe procedures in place.

Are developers allowed to open showhomes?

New build show homes are allowed to open but with restrictions in place which consist of:-

  • Viewings must be by appointment only and only one household visiting one property at a time.
  • Developers must clean the surfaces between viewings
  • Developers must ensure their sales team follow the safer working guidance at all times.

If I want a viewing to be carried out at my property, what safety precautions does the government advise that I take?

The government has issued guidance on viewings that need to take place in person, in the first instance, these should be done virtually but when needed viewings can be organized by appointment only.  The guidance for sellers or landlords is as follows:-

  • All internal doors should be open prior to the viewing
  • Allow access to handwashing facilities and ideally separate towels/paper towels
  • Advise that you vacate the property whilst the viewing takes place to minimize contact with those not in your household.
  • Agents are advised to accompany viewers to ensure avoidance of touching surfaces maintaining a 2 metre distance at all times
  • After the viewing, all surfaces such as door handles are cleaned and towels disposed of or washed that have been used for hand washing.

Who can leave their house to view a property?

As long as no-one in either household are experiencing coronavirus symptoms or are self-isolating, property viewings can take place.  If someone is experiencing symptoms or self-isolating, the viewing must be delayed.  It should also be noted that those that are shielding in the vulnerable group are asked to follow medical advice, and should avoid unnecessary contacts over this period.   

Have there been changes to mortgages?

The government instruction to lenders is to be as flexible as possible when it comes to mortgages and to speak to your broker or agent if you have concerns about how your mortgage might be impacted.

Certain lenders are currently moving away from mortgages with a larger loan-to-value ratio and focusing on supporting their existing borrowers during this period of uncertainty. Homeowners and landlords who already have a mortgage can apply for a payment holiday for up to three months to help alleviate the pressure of payments.

Can I make or receive an offer or a reservation?

Yes, government guidance is that you are free to make or accept an offer or reserve a property as normal.  There is further guidance on things like inspections on the property they are purchasing which must be within social distancing guidelines and no-one can enter a property where a member of the household is showing symptoms of coronavirus or if anyone is self-isolating. 

What is happening with exchange?

Exchanges are still being encouraged to go ahead, with a focus on flexible but delayed completions. The majority of the sales process can still be conducted while people are working from home, and any delays which you might experience are often typical of the sales process.
If you’re preparing to exchange, it’s important to keep communicating with your solicitor and estate agent regularly to try and exchange as smoothly as possible.

What is happening with completion?

The pressures of isolation may mean that completion on a property is more difficult. The Government is currently advising buyers and sellers to be flexible and delay where possible, unless circumstances, such as death, divorce or debt, mean that this isn’t a feasible option.

If you are trying to complete during isolation, the majority of documents needed can be scanned or signed using a digital program. During this process, it’s important to note that all parties concerned need to be prepared to be flexible in their approach.

If you’re completing on a new build property, in most cases you should be able to proceed normally, while adhering to government guidelines. There is a level of ambiguity about moving into occupied properties, but the general advice is that if it is possible to delay your move, then do so.

Another concern is that completion dates will be impacted by the need to self isolate for a member of the chain. In these instances, the most important thing is that if someone has symptoms they should not be moving. Remember that issues with chain completion are normal and that most people are accommodating and happy to arrange a new completion date where possible.

What if I have coronavirus or am self-isolating and I am contractually committed to move home?

The government have advised that anyone in the moving chain with an agreement in place should remain flexible for circumstances like these and you should not expect to move into a home where people are ill or self-isolating.  It is best to consult your legal adviser to ensure the contract you enter into has sufficient flexibility.

What happens if your lease is up during lockdown?

Speak to your landlord well in advance of the date where the lease is up. If they are unwilling to renew the lease, but you don’t feel comfortable moving during the virus the best advice is to stay put and continue to pay your rent, no eviction from the property can take place for three months but communicating early can help avoid problems.

Government advice is that unless moving is unavoidable, the best thing to do is delay. If you were planning on moving into a new rental property, the best idea is to speak to your letting agents and try to establish whether you feel safe to do so.

Things to consider include:

  • Whether the property has been empty
  • Has the property been sanitised
  • Is moving going to put you or others at risk?

What is the guidance on removals?

Government advice states that this is possible as long as no-one in the household has symptoms or are self isolating and removal firms are allowed to operate within the social distancing and safer working guidelines. Government advice states that you should do as much of the packing yourself as possible and cleaning your belongings where possible.  If planning to use a removal firm, you should get in contact well in advance of the move date.  You will not be able to be within 2 metres of the movers and you need to ensure hand washing facilities are accessible and all doors are open to minimise contact.  

If you are in the middle of trying to buy, rent or sell your property, contact haart for all the support you need. We’re still on a mission to get you moved, and all our estate agents are committed to helping you. Contact your local branch by phone, or arrange a video call with one of our agents.  You can book a virtual valuation with us here, or if you want to find out about all of our measures in place have a look at our stay safe page.