Housebuilders struggle to ramp up construction as storm clouds gather

They argue an extension is needed to help buyers of homes that have been delayed due to coronavirus. With strict social distancing measures on sites, house-builders are still running well below full productivity.

“There is the potential for a large number of transactions across the market to be aborted as housebuilders struggle to raise productivity to the level required to fill the time lost from March to June,” warns Truscott. Help to Buy can also help make up for some of the low deposit mortgages being taken off the market. 

Although there are predictions of a rebound in 2021, the looming withdrawal of government support for the economy, including the furlough scheme paying wages, casts a long shadow. 

Unemployment will not affect housebuilders equally, but depends on which sectors of the economy are hit the hardest. Job losses in sectors where wages are lower, such as retail and hospitality, are more likely to affect house-builders such as Persimmon and Gleeson, which build cheaper houses. “It’s very much shades of grey,” says Peel Hunt analyst Clyde Lewis. 

Many builders are already acting cautiously as they await, in Boris Johnson’s words, the economic “thunderclap” after the “lightning” of the height of the pandemic – and that’s not even taking into consideration the prospect of a second spike. 

While homes already under way are now being completed, starts on new building sites were running at just 12pc of pre-Covid levels during the four weeks to June 14, according to research by Savills. 

“Right now housebuilders are finishing off stock – they are not building new sites,” agrees Lewis. “Realistically it takes a minimum of three months, sometimes five, to build. If they are not starting sites and new plots, you are unlikely to get much in terms of completions this side of Christmas.”

Savills estimates that 171,000 new homes will be built in England this year – 44pc less than last year. Their researchers believe housebuilding might not return to 2019-20 levels until 2022-23, even assuming the economy bounces back next year. 

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