Property market begins to emerge from lockdown

INDUSTRY experts are warning that it could take up to a year for the property industry to fully recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the Government allowed estate agents to reopen and construction work to begin again.

It estimates that more than 450,000 buyers and renters had been unable to progress their plans to move since March, while a survey conducted by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) recorded an significant increase in buyers and sellers cancelling transactions in April.

Addressing the figures, which also reflected a decline in new buyer enquiries and properties being listed for sale, chief economist Simon Rubinsohn said: “Not surprisingly, the latest survey shows that housing activity indicators collapsed in April reflecting the impact of the lockdown.

“Looking further out, there is a little more optimism but the numbers still suggest that it will be a struggle to get confidence back to where it was as recently as February.

“Critically, to ensure the housing market can begin to operate in a more functional way and that developers have the confidence to continue building in these very difficult circumstances, further specific interventions from Government are likely to be necessary.”

Rachel Gaylor, head of residential property at The Head Partnership Solicitors, said: “Luckily, as conveyancers can work remotely we have been actively been able to help people complete property transactions throughout the lockdown. Now our property peers can return to work, we are looking forward to helping clients who have had to put their plans on hold”.

And supportive of the new measures – which will observe the two-metre social distancing and protective equipment guidelines – she added: “People still need to move because of job changes, upgrades to a larger premises as their family grows, or first time buyers wanting to take advantage of the current record low interest rates.

“It is predicted there will be an increase in would-be homebuyers planning to move to more rural towns as people conclude home working is here to stay, or dream of a different pace of life.”

One major housebuilder which has begun a phased re-opening of its construction sites in Berkshire is Barret Developments, parent company of David Wilson Homes.

Although its sales centres and show homes remain closed, David Wilson Homes says it has developed a set of working practices and protocols to ensure safety is a priority across all of its sites.

Changes have affected signage, site welfare facilities, site access, walkways and training, as well as the introduction of Social Distancing Marshals who will be present on all sites to ensure compliance with health and safety measures.

Managing director at David Wilson Homes Southern, Paul Crispin, said: “Our first priority is the health and safety of our employees, sub-contractors and customers.

“In line with our commitment to put our customers first, we will be prioritising the completion of those homes that our customers have already exchanged or reserved.”

Mr Crispin added: “As a business committed to doing the right thing we have been supporting the NHS and our communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have donated PPE to local NHS services and defibrillators to St John Ambulance from our sites across the region and are working with charities and organisations to help local communities.”

Persimmon Homes has also announced the re-opening of its sites across England. Development work will run from Thursday to Monday each week.

Ben Felton, director in charge of Persimmon Homes Thames Valley, said: “We are delighted that we are now in a position to be re-opening our new developments and showhomes.

“Our sales advisers have worked extremely hard to help existing and new customers during this difficult lockdown period and continue to be able via phone and email. Reservations and completions have, in fact, remained strong despite no face-to-face contact.

“Even so, being able to meet with househunters, albeit at a safe distance, is an important step forward and will be a help for many people. Looking around the showhomes to see the type of properties on offer is also valuable for many people.

“We look forward to welcoming people in the days and weeks to come.”

Changes to sales trends were also felt by Padworth-based Westbuild Homes who commented on the effect of the lockdown.

Managing director Guy West said: “The lockdown prevented a quarter of our houses from being sold on our Arborfield Green development.

“Fortunately the development is surrounded by open spaces, so recent interest in the remaining house has been very encouraging.

“We expect sites such as this, and ours in Barkham to be of more interest, given buyers’ recent desire for garden space and close proximity to countryside.

“We are also now finding fibre optic/ ultrafast broadband higher up buyers’ necessities.”

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