When the UK government gave the green light for the housing market to resume activity, it marked a move to support an estimated £82 billion of paused transactions.
The recommencement of construction work at new homes developments and the re-opening of estate agents’ offices is set to provide a boost to the economy as lockdown restrictions are gradually eased and the country takes its first steps towards resuming routine business.
But what does the ‘new normal’ look like for buyers and sellers in 2020 and how has the industry adapted during the Coronavirus pandemic?
Preparations for what life beyond lockdown might look like were starting almost as soon as the UK-wide restrictions were imposed on March 23.
The frozen market provided ample opportunity for buyers to consider their options financially, for would-be sellers to ‘get their house in order’ and for developers and agents to strategise their own exit plan from the lockdown.
With more time at home to reflect on what matters most, buyers and sellers have had time to prepare shortlists and Venn diagrams to better understand what truly makes a home. Housebuilders and estate agents have been quick to recognise the revision of people’s priorities – whether they’re looking for more space to work from home, better outdoor space or gardens, or a more community-oriented neighbourhood – and reflect this in what they offer.
Developing the capabilities of virtual tours has also been vital in supporting the buying process.
While the general consensus remains that seeing is believing, virtual tours can certainly rule out some potential options for buyers as they provide greater depth and insight into a home than CGIs or a carousel of photos.
Following the statement released by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick to re-open the property market on May 12, Rightmove reported 5.2 million visits to its website listings on May 13, as the pent-up demand in the market was released.
Estate agents began arranging viewings, and new homes developers put in motion their own plans to re-open safely to customers, albeit with a distinct sense of how the ‘new normal’ will impact the market.
Virtual viewings will remain in place for some time to come to narrow down the number of potential buyers and eliminate from the process those who are just browsing.
In-person viewings are available by appointment only to those who are genuinely interested to reduce additional unnecessary health risks. Once an appointment has been made, buyers and sellers need to get used to face masks becoming a mandatory part of the process.
Sales teams and agents for new homes and second-hand properties will also be ensuring homes remain well ventilated and sanitised, with door handles and light switches being properly cleaned before and after each viewing.
Further along in the buying process, it’s likely that video calls will remain the default way for financial advisors and solicitors to meet their clients for some time to come, while removal firms are also following stringent health and safety guidance to ensure the safety of employees and customers during the physical move.
There are clear signs of shoots of recovery coming to the surface through industry commentary and movement in the property market generally.
Agents across the country have seen online enquiries reach record high levels since the market re-opened, while Rightmove research suggests around 95 per cent of property transactions paused by the lockdown will now resume through to completion.
It may well be that the ‘new normal’ will become simply ‘normal’ in the aftermath of these changes, but providing the industry carries out its activity in a safe and measured way, it remains vital that the housing market supports the wider growth of the UK economy as we all look to take positive steps forward in the weeks and months to come.