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Coronavirus: where is the property industry now?

  1. 07 September 2020
  2. By Daisy Stephens

As lockdown restrictions gradually lift, we take a look at the current state of the property market and what it might mean for you.

What are the current guidelines?

Nearly 4 months on from the reopening of England’s housing market, the rules remain largely unchanged. In fact, according to the government website, the only changes that have been made for movers relate to the use of face coverings, information on repossessions, and updated guidance on shielding.

As a reminder, a summary on the current guidance for moving house is as follows:

  • You are free to move home, including if you are clinically extremely vulnerable, but the process of doing so will be different as the different parties involved modify their methods to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19
  • This includes virtual viewings where possible, use of face coverings in agent offices or when viewing properties in person, no more than 2 households entering a property at any one time including the agent, and the taking of necessary precautions during viewings like opening all windows and doors, cleaning after each viewing, and if possible the current owners vacating the property during a viewing
  • The usual social distancing rules apply to everyone involved in the process
  • You should do as much of the packing as you can yourself instead of hiring a removal company to do it for you
  • If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 you should delay your move and isolate at home for at least 10 days
You can view more detailed guidance for each stage of the moving process, as well as guidance for the industry, on the government moving advice page.

Can I move to, from or in an area of local lockdown?

At the moment none of the local lockdowns in place around the UK have included any additional restrictions on the moving industry.

However, despite the official ending of the shielding programme, in Leicester you’re still advised to shield if you’re clinically extremely vulnerable. So while doesn’t explicitly state anywhere that you shouldn’t move in this area if you’re vulnerable, those in the shielding category should stay inside as much as possible and so it is advisable to put of your move if you’re able to.

What challenges for movers has the pandemic brought so far?

Since the lifting of restrictions, one big obstacle that has stood in the way of potential buyers is a change to mortgage requirements. With the looming financial uncertainty lenders are being much more cautious and asking for larger deposits, which might leave those who were counting on 5-10% out in the cold. Some are starting to lower their requirements again, but it’s still not as easy to secure a mortgage as it was pre-lockdown – and if you’re currently furloughed it might be harder still.

What is the government doing to help?

Like many other industries, the property industry was hit hard by the pandemic and so the government have announced a number of measures to help it get back on its feet.

Tax holidays

Arguably the most significant of these measures are the property tax holidays. All of these temporary threshold changes will apply up until 31 March 2021.

Extension of the Help to Buy Scheme

The Help to Buy Scheme, introduced under David Cameron in 2013, was originally set to come to an end in its original form in April 2021, with a version specifically for First Time Buyers set to run for another 2 years after that. However the Help to Buy Scheme can only be used on new-build properties, so a 2-month extension to the scheme was announced to make up for construction delays caused by the coronavirus lockdown.

Under the new rules the deadline for completion of sales remains the same – 31 March 2021 – but properties can now be finished by the end of February 2021 instead of December 2020. The reaction to the change has been incredibly mixed – you can read more about it in our article about the Help to Buy extension.

Reform of England’s planning system

Boris Johnson has identified that building more homes – fast – is a key part of the country’s financial recovery from the pandemic, and on 6 August the government released a Whitepaper announcing their intentions to completely overhaul the planning system. The document explained that local plans will be redrawn to group all land into three categories:
  • Growth areas: in these areas planning approval will be automatically secured on the condition that certain conditions are met
  • Renewal areas: some development will be allowed
  • Protected areas (Green Belt): development is restricted
It also stated that local authorities would be subject to a new national requirement for the number of new homes built in their areas, as well as new laws that will result in penalties for authorities that do not get projects through the planning phase within 30 months.

Read more about the government’s ‘radical’ planning proposals.

Have these initiatives worked?

In the last few months there has been a surge in activity in the property industry, which has largely been attributed to the property tax holidays – Rightmove reported record site traffic within half an hour of Rishi Sunak’s announcement about Stamp Duty Land Tax. Our latest House Price Forecast predicts that this will translate into an 8% increase in property prices between June and October.

However, what the pandemic and the counteracting government schemes will mean for the long-term security of the industry remains to be seen. There is concern that the furlough scheme is merely delaying the economic hit, and that the full force will be seen when it comes to an end and there is inevitably a second wave of redundancies. How the property market will fare in response is not easy to predict.

So is now a good time to move?

This is very dependent on your personal circumstances. If your job isn’t secure or you have financial worries, now might not be the time. But if you’ve got the deposit and your job isn’t going anywhere then the incentives the government has put in place might mean this is a golden opportunity. Just remember:
  • Property prices are especially volatile at the moment, so don’t be afraid to negotiate
  • If lockdown has given you the opportunity to reassess your priorities, keep them at the forefront of your mind when looking for a new property. Do you need somewhere with a study? Or do you want to be near green space?
  • The property tax holidays are all due to come to an end on 31 March 2021, which means there may well be a rush at the beginning of next year. If you’re able to, get the process moving sooner rather than later – you don’t want delays to mean you lose out on that saving

For more advice on moving during the pandemic, read our 10 tips to help you get your ducks in a row.

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