Housing market to stay open in England during new lockdown
The announcement of a second national coronavirus lockdown has left the housing market largely untouched.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a press conference on 31 October in which he announced measures in England aimed at restricting the spread of Covid-19 akin to those put in place in March.
From 5 November until at least 2 December, people are being asked to stay at home where possible and avoid gathering with people they do not live with.
Certain types of businesses – particularly in the hospitality industry – and public venues are being ordered to close.
But unlike in March, schools and universities are being allowed to stay open, as are estate agents offices, while home moves and appraisals remain permitted, subject to social distancing guidelines.
OnTheMarket has this guide to the implications of the second national lockdown for homeowners and property buyers, sellers, renters and landlords.
Can I still move house during lockdown?
Yes, you can. This question was not addressed in the Prime Minister’s press conference but is covered briefly in the Government’s guidance on the new national restrictions.
The guidance states:
You can still move home. People outside your household or support bubble should not help with moving house unless absolutely necessary.
Estate and letting agents and removals firms can continue to work and people looking to move home can continue to undertake viewings.
This is different to the first lockdown during which home moves were not allowed from 23 March until the housing market reopened on 13 May.
This means home buyers and renters can move house providing they keep to Government advice on home moving during the Covid-19 outbreak.
So home moving remains possible providing guidelines are adhered to, for example anyone who has tested positive for coronavirus, has symptoms or who is self-isolating must not move house.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has since issued a ‘Message to the Housing Industry‘ on 3 November offering further reassurance.
Are property viewings permitted?
In-person property viewings are allowed but with caveats. As with home moves, the rule regarding those who have had, may have or are especially vulnerable to Covid-19, is the same.
No open house events are permitted and only members of the same household are allowed to attend physical viewings.
Surfaces such as door handles should be cleaned before and after viewings, along with a number of other instructions for cleaning.
While a viewing takes place, any current occupiers should stand outside, any agent accompanying those visiting try and stay at least two metres away and the viewing should not last for longer than 15 minutes.
Home viewers should wash their hands before and after, use their own hand sanitiser and avoid touching surfaces where they can.
Online viewings, including videos, 3D virtual tours and live video tours conducted by agents or vendors, remain an excellent and ever more popular alternative to in-person viewings.
OnTheMarket users can filter search results to include only online viewings if they choose.
Are estate agents still allowed to operate?
Yes, they are. All non-essential retail businesses are being ordered to close but estate agents’ offices are not included in this and so can stay open.
That said, the guidance for the property industry established by Paul Offley, Compliance Officer at the Guild of Property Professionals, states that agents should keep branch doors locked and only accept customers by appointment.
They should also have confirmed they do not have any Covid-19 symptoms prior to visiting. Some local authorities are vigorously policing this ban on walk-ins.
What about removal companies and tradespeople?
In his message to the housing industry, Robert Jenrick said: “Home repairs and maintenance can continue.
So tradespeople such as plumbers and electricians can visit your home, as can estate agents, surveyors and conveyancers in order to carry out appraisals of your property.
Removal companies are also allowed to continue to operate to facilitate home moves.
Once again, all the above must respect coronavirus guidelines while operating in a property.
What about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
A national ‘firebreak’ lockdown already in place in Wales from 23 October until 9 November, permits home moves and property surveys but only if they cannot be deferred until after the firebreak period.
Estate agent offices are closed and in-person property viewings are not allowed.
On 9 November, restrictions in Wales reverted back to how they were previously, despite the announcement of England’s lockdown.
This means estate agents have been allowed to reopen, moving home is once again be permitted and in-person viewings and property surveys can be carried out.
In Scotland, a five tier approach to managing Covid-19 came into force on 2 November.
Across all tiers, advice for property buyers and sellers in Scotland allows estate agents to operate and home moves, property surveys and in person viewings to be carried out.
The same are also all permitted in Northern Ireland, subject to advice on home moving during the coronavirus outbreak last updated in August.
Mortgage holidays extended
The mortgage repayment holiday scheme was set to come to an end on 31 October but has now been extended for another six months.
This means customers facing difficulty paying their mortgages can still get relief by speaking to their lenders and making an arrangement, while those who have already agreed deferments can carry on with them up to the six month limit.
Those who have reached their six month limit, or are approaching it, are advised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to contact their lenders.
The FCA provides mortgages and coronavirus information for consumers.
Furlough scheme extended and made more generous
Also initially set to end on 31 October, the Treasury’s furlough scheme has now been extended across the UK until the end of March next year.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is also reverting back to the original level of 80 per cent of an employee’s salary being covered by the Government rather than the less generous 60 per cent to which it fell in August.
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