House moves and viewings will resume from today under the new public health regulations that will see England transition out of the Covid-19 lockdown that has been in force since late March. New home owners who were waiting to complete or have just had their mortgage approved will be relieved to hear that they can finally move home. Importantly, these changes will only apply to England – Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland remain in lockdown that extends to house moving.
The new rules outlined by the government also allow house viewings in England to resume, albeit within a strict framework of hygiene and social distancing rules. For example, estate agents may ask house sellers to sign a form confirming that they are well. Estate agents will be required to wear gloves and masks and to wipe door handles and switches, while home owners will be asked to be absent during house viewings.
Moreover, virtual viewings are encouraged wherever possible – although it remains to be seen how much uptake of them there will be, given the importance traditionally placed on visiting a property – preferably more than once – before buying it. It is possible, however, that virtual viewings may at least help reduce the number of viewings needed for the buyer to make a decision. It will also limit the number of people who view the property at all as some may rule out interest from the virtual visit.
The relaxation of restrictions on house buying and moving is a welcome sign that the housing market may begin a slow recovery after transactions ground to a standstill in April and house prices began going down. However, just how healthy the market will be post lockdown will be largely determined by prospective buyers' finances, directly linked to the potential rise in unemployment after July, when employers will be asked to contribute more to furloughed workers' salaries.
House sellers and estate agents wishing to maximise their chances of a quick sale will do well to take into account the changing nature of how people are using their homes – the biggest of them, of course, the vast increase in people working from home, which is likely to become a longer term trend.
Properties with extra bedrooms that can be used as home offices, or even areas of open-plan living or dining rooms that can be presented as potential home office space, will sell quicker and for a better price.
And if you are prospective home owner? If you envisage yourself working from home for the foreseeable future, don't be afraid to ask estate agents and home owners lots of questions about what the property has to offer in terms of additional space.
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