The property market officially restarted on Wednesday May 13, with the government giving the green light for the property industry to go back to work as one major part of its slow easing of lockdown restrictions. 

Nevertheless, there are still significant caveats, challenges and restrictions in play, with it very much being the new normal rather than a return to how things were before.

Estate agents are now able to reopen their doors (if they wish), while buyers, sellers, landlords and tenants are able to move freely again (albeit with very strict guidelines in place on how to do this safely). Equally, conveyancers, surveyors, removal firms, valuers, mortgage brokers and others who contribute to the pathway to completion have also been given the green light to start operating once more.

Naturally, this is brilliant news for those with a stake in the property market, including those of you already in the process of moving before the lockdown was brought in. Equally, it will act as a reassurance for those of you who are thinking about listing or purchasing in the short to medium-term.

But it won’t be a case of as you were. The government has allowed the industry to reopen, but only under the proviso of strict social distancing measures and hygiene protocols being implemented. There are other major changes to go alongside this, too.

Here at Key Property Consultants, we take a quick look at what the government guidance says and what it means for buyers, sellers and the agents representing them.

Radical changes

It will be a very different property market to the one we left behind pre-lockdown. In order to stick to rules on social distancing, agents, buyers and sellers are being asked to carry out activity online as much as possible.

The government guidance states clearly that the process of finding and moving into a new home will need to change for some time. Those involved in the process will, for the time being at least, need to adapt their practices and procedures to make sure that Covid-19 doesn’t spread. It’s vitally important, as the government continually tells us, to keep the R rate down – below 1 – and the best way of achieving that is effective social distancing.

“This will include doing more of the process online, including virtual initial viewings,” the guidance advises.

Property searching online is also encouraged by the government guidelines, to ensure that would-be buyers can source their dream home without leaving the house. “To support this, agents may ask home occupiers to conduct virtual viewings,” the guidance added.

The guidance also advises that, for new-building property sales, where possible developers should promote virtual viewings.

In a similar fashion, conveyancers – who play a hugely important role in the buying and selling process – have been told to carry out as much of their business online as they can.

For those times when physical interactions are needed, there are a range of guidelines in place to keep everyone safe. Viewings and public visits to branches should be on an appointment-only basis, while steps should be taken to avoid contact with clients showing symptoms or those who have been advised to self-isolate. 

Buyers and sellers who match the above criteria are being asked to reach an amicable arrangement, delaying the transaction to a time when they or a member of their household are no longer ill, shielding or self-isolating.

The guidance recommends that open house viewings should be avoided completely, while during in-person viewings everyone must maintain the standard two metre distance from others, with face-masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) worn as appropriate.

To further lower the risk of the disease spreading, buyers must now make their own way to appointments rather than travelling there in an agent’s car. 

Hygiene-wise, hand sanitiser and hand washing facilities must be available at any property being viewed, while keys should be cleaned before handover. Ventilation should be increased by opening doors and windows where possible.

Additionally, the guidance confirmed that all supplementary activities within the property rental and sales process may resume as well, including surveys, EPC assessments, removals and conveyancing. The preparation of homes for sale – including the use of tradespeople to complete this – is now also accepted, while people can make visits to future homes to measure up or have building work done prior to moving in. 

Once more, however, social distancing and hygiene protocols must be adhered to at all times.

You can read the full government guidance here.

Sticking to the guidelines at all times

We are absolutely determined to follow the new government guidelines to the letter. Our staff and our clients are the most important things to us, and we will do all we can to keep them safe and well.

To this end, we will continue to encourage and facilitate virtual viewings and valuations where this is possible and desirable. We will also religiously stick to the guidelines on social distancing and hygiene protocols outlined by the government to give our clients the peace of mind that they can move home safely.

We know there is a lot of pent-up demand in the sector, which is now ready to bounce back. According to the government, approximately 450,000 house transactions are currently in the pipeline – the vast majority of which would have been put on hold by lockdown – while some 300,000 tenancies are coming up for renewal. 

As a result, we are predicting a very busy period now that lockdown has been eased, albeit we will all be operating in a very different market. It could be the case that things that have proved very useful in lockdown – including virtual viewings and valuations – may be here to stay. They hadn’t really caught on until now, when they were needed more than ever, and they are likely to be a key part of the process while social distancing remains in play.

We must all find ways of adapting to the virus and living alongside it. When reopening the property market, the government clearly stated that it would not be a ‘return to normality’. Restraint, caution and stringent health and safety measures are needed now, more than ever.

Fortunately, sentiment has remained high throughout the lockdown period, with research suggesting that many buyers and sellers want to act decisively at the earliest available opportunity. This should ensure the market bounces back fast. 

This changed market will take some getting used to, though, which means processes may be slower than usual for a short period. Nevertheless, the property market has shown before its capacity to deal with crises and difficulties, and there is no reason why it can’t do the same again.

To find out how we are currently operating, and how can help you to move safely in the South East London area, please get in touch with us today.

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