Can I move house during lockdown?

Linda J. Dodson

The English property market has got the green light to reopen as the Government announced new regulations that will lift the seven week freeze on property viewings and home moves today.

Housing markets in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland remain shut, but in England people are now allowed to travel to visit estate agents and view properties. Surveyors, valuers and conveyancers can return to work following social distancing guidelines.

  • Today at 1 p.m. (BST) Melissa Lawford and Isabelle Fraser will be answering your questions on moving, buying and selling during lockdown. Leave your questions in the comments section below or send them to [email protected]

Since the sector was effectively suspended at the end of March, 373,000 transactions have been thrown up in the air and newly agreed sales have dropped by 90pc, according to the property portal Zoopla.

The process of buying and selling a house is now going to be radically different. The Government has issued detailed guidance for how viewings and sales can go ahead in line with social distancing requirements.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has sent out pan-industry guidance with further details on how to navigate the physical contact points of house moves. Here’s what it means for the market right now.

How soon will we be able to go to house viewings?

Before Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement beginning lockdown easing on Sunday evening, the property industry was already gearing up to restart at the end of May, pending a Government sign-off on proposed guidelines.

Now, it has been given the go-head to reopen immediately, but viewings will depend on when individual estate agents plan to reopen.

Dexters opened its 70 London offices on Wednesday by appointment and is now offering viewings. Knight Frank is now arranging viewings and market appraisals and will reopen its offices on Monday. Winkworth will start viewings again today and will also reopen its offices on Monday. We will update this page as more agents confirm their plans.

How different is the process of buying a house now?

Be aware that even the current guidance could change again quickly. The Government guidance states: “It may also become necessary to pause all home moves for a short period of time to manage the spread of the coronavirus.” The current information is dependent on the outbreak staying under control.

Virtual viewings will become far more commonplace. The Government’s newly published guidelines say that initial property viewings should be online.

According to the Rics guidance, viewings should be kept to only the agent (who will stay at a two metre distance)  and a maximum of two adults from the buyer’s household. An agent should be present for viewings wherever possible to ensure the guidance is followed. Small children are allowed to come to house viewings but they should be kept from touching things and was their hands regularly.

Sellers will be expected to open all doors and turn on light switches, and then wait in the garden or vacate their home while the buyer views the property without touching anything. They should provide a place where buyers can wash their hands and dry them with separate towels (ideally paper towels). Surfaces and door handles must be cleaned before and after every viewing.

Buyers must avoid touching any surfaces and should bring their own hand sanitiser. There is a ban on open house viewings. If a member of any household is exhibiting coronavirus symptoms, the viewing should be delayed.

When the industry body guidelines are released, they could also include recommendations for buyers, sellers and agents to wear PPE. Everyone will most likely be expected to provide this for themselves, said Mark Hayward of NAEA Propertymark. 

Wherever possible, mortgage lenders will make their valuations remotely, using existing local transaction data. The exceptions will be if the buyer is purchasing with a small deposit (namely 5 or 10pc) or the property has a particularly high value, in which case a physical valuation in line with social distancing guidelines will still be necessary.

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