Property viewings and visits to estate agents can now be classed as reasonable excuses for leaving the house under the new regulations which come into force in England today.Under amendments to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) regulations in England, a reasonable excuse will now be expanded to include undertaking several activities in connection with the purchase, sale, letting or rental of a residential property.
They include visiting estate or letting agents, developer sales offices or show homes; viewing residential properties to look for a property to buy or rent, preparing a residential property to move in, moving home and visiting a residential property to undertake any activities required for the rental or sale of that property.
The housing market has pretty much ground to a halt since Boris Johnson ordered the country into lockdown on March 23 and the Government advised against all non-essential house moves and banned agents from listing new properties.
According to property website Zoopla, around 373,000 property transactions across the UK, with a total value of £82 billion, have been put on hold due to coronavirus lockdown measures.
Estate agents are hoping to breathe life into the UK property market from today
Househunters have been able to conduct “virtual viewings” online in recent weeks but many have been holding back from putting offers in until they could physically view a property.
Recent research by Savills found that, while prospective buyers at the top end of the property market have become less committed to moving in the near term, the experience of COVID-19 has made them more determined to move within the next couple of years.
The return to a partially normalised housing market includes new advice issued for everyone involved in the chain, from estate agents to surveyors.
The framework of rules designed to pave the way for a safe reopening of the property market calls for the two-metre social distancing measures to be observed, the wearing of protective gloves where necessary and asking high-risk vendors to keep out of their home during viewings.
New Government guidelines should help thaw the frozen market
Kate Faulkner, chair of the Home Buying and Selling Group, said: “Over the last few days the UK residential property industry has been working collaboratively to create cross-industry coronavirus guidance for professionals.
“If everybody the consumer meets does exactly the same thing, they are more likely to understand that this is the new way to move home.”
But estate agents are still calling for clearer guidance on when they can start showing clients properties.
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They said the new regulations do not make clear whether estate agents will be able to market new properties at this stage.
One issue is the advice that individuals can meet another person from outside their household under certain circumstances.
David Cox, chief executive of ARLA Propertymark, the trade body for lettings agents, said: “It is really confusing at the moment.
“Is it one other person at 9am for a viewing, one other person at 10am? Or one person ever?”
Iain McKenzie, CEO of The Guild of Property Professionals, said: “The announcement that estate and lettings agents can return to work is excellent news for both the industry and the greater economy with housing related activity making up a substantial contribution to GDP.
“However, it is imperative that the sector returns to work with clear COVID-19 safe guidelines, taking into consideration the concerns of colleagues and customers.
“It is vital that the sector continues to ensure that they act within a responsible and safe manner ensuring that Government health guidelines are adhered to at all times. “Most estates agents have the tech tools, processes and services in place to carry out the home buying process virtually through means of video viewings and valuations, and electronic contracts and documentation.
“If we as an industry follow the safety guidelines, I believe that the property sector will play a key part in getting the economy back on its feet again.”
The residential property sector has been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic
Nick Forrest, PwC UK Economics Consulting Leader, said re-opening the housing market would give a massive boost to economic activity, particularly in London.
He said: “In London, sectors such as financial services and real estate produce higher economic benefit relative to risk.
“The opening of the housing market should therefore be a particular boost to economic activity in the capital, and is a logical follow-up to construction.
“House builders need a functioning real estate market.”