Moving house is a favourite spring pastime and some of us are now free to start the hunt for a new home to buy or rent, following the re-opening of the property market.
About 373,000 property sales worth some £82 billion were put on hold during the lockdown. The early response has been enthusiastic, but the Government says this is ‘not a return to normality’.
Markets in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales remain closed, and social-distancing regulations could prove a turn-off.
Can you fall in love with a home while wearing PPE? Here are the answers to some of the key questions home buyers and sellers are asking…
About 373,000 property sales worth some £82 billion were put on hold during the lockdown
Q Can we go to view a home as a couple?
A Yes, but only if you currently live together. The rules permit you to visit a home with your spouse or partner and the estate agent.
The agent will ask you and the occupiers of the property whether you or anyone in your household has Covid-19 or symptoms, or is shielding or self-isolating. You will be advised to visit outside rush-hour and travel by car.
Rightmove suggests you carry a viewing kit with a mask, sanitiser and a checklist of questions. The agent will be equipped with PPE and sanitiser.
Q Is it a good time to sell your home?
A The new rules should mean fewer time-wasters, but be prepared for offers as much as 20 per cent under your asking price. Your strategy should be to price attractively.
Take a reality check. Even if you sell for 20 per cent less, you may be able to get a similar discount on your next home.
Q What should I do if I decide to sell my property?
House price forecasts
Bank of England: Fall of 16%
Cebr: Fall of 13%
Savills: 5 to 10% fall on thin sales
Liberum: Fall of 7% in real prices
Lloyds Banking Group: 5 to 10% fall
EY’s Howard Archer: Fall of 5%
Knight Frank: Fall of 7%
A Scrubbing and polishing every inch of a home is always a good strategy. But you should now use antibacterial cleaner on areas likely to be touched during every viewing, such as doorbells.
To comply with social-distancing regulations, you and your family must open all doors and leave the home during the viewing.
The traditional rules of how to sell matter more than ever, since you never get a second chance to make a great first impression. Start with a smart front door.
A longing for outdoor space will be one of the reasons why people are house hunting, so it’s vital to spruce up the garden, too.
Q Aren’t house prices set to fall?
A The decline in prices this year is likely to depend on the depth of the recession. Savills predicts a 10 per cent decrease, if the economy bounces back quickly.
The impact could be greater if a large number of people who were struggling financially are forced to sell. But Richard Donnell, head of insight at Zoopla, suspects lenders will be reluctant to repossess properties so may lower repayments.
Demand for homes collapsed in March, said Zoopla, and at the end of last month it remained 60% below the levels at the beginning of March
Q What is the outlook like for the longer term?
A RICS, the surveyors’ trade body, does not expect a recovery until next Easter at the earliest. During the financial crisis of 2008, prices fell by an average of 19.6 per cent. The South quickly revived but parts of the North remain below their 2008 level.
Q What’s the latest about mortgage holidays?
A One in seven borrowers have gained consent from their lender to have a three-month mortgage payment holiday, under which they either pay less or nothing.
The deferred payments are added to the mortgage, which means that your repayments rise at the end of the holiday. It is possible that these holidays could be extended to a year or 18 months for those with no real short-term prospect of repaying the debt.
‘I want to move but am worried about house prices’
Poppy Low, 72, lives in Harrogate and wants to move south to be close to family
Poppy Low, 72 and retired, lives in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
With one son living in London with her grandson and another based in Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, she’s been hoping to move for the past six months so she can be nearer her family.
Lockdown stopped her from putting her home on the market earlier this year.
She said: ‘I’m feeling a lot more upbeat about things now that the government has said we can move, although I am still a bit worried about house prices.
‘Poppy has already been in touch with her estate agent and has been told she can do virtual viewings of properties she might want to buy.
‘It’s something, but it’s not really enough if I’m going to buy a house – I really need to have been round it.’
Q Are there any new housing trends emerging?
A Lockdown and working from home has changed homebuyers’ tastes. New research shows that 39 per cent of buyers are now more likely to move to a village.
This is good news for the pricing of larger houses in rural areas, with space for boomerang children and superfast broadband.
Q Will I find it difficult to get a mortgage?
A It all depends on your circumstances, but lenders are loosening the purse strings. Jonathan Harris, director of mortgage broker Harwell Finance Group, says: ‘Lenders remain keen to help. They are reducing some already-low rates and offering higher loans-to-value.’
This one bedroom flat with a garden in the popular London area of Battersea sold for £430,000 at Savills’ auction this week
Q I have been furloughed. Should I go ahead with buying?
A You should speak to your lender, who may revise your loan offer — although it is possible you may still meet the criteria to borrow the amount that you need.
You must disclose this change in your circumstances, under the terms of the mortgage.
It seems some lenders are already using their right to withdraw a mortgage offer, even after exchange, if the home’s value has dropped or the borrower’s income is lower. The borrower must bear the steep cost of failing to complete.
A few lenders are asking all new borrowers to confirm their financial situation remains unaltered.
Q Can I withdraw from a property deal?
A If you have already exchanged, you would lose your deposit. If you have not exchanged, you can pull out and make a new offer.
Q I am a first-time buyer, with a deposit. Is this my big chance?
A If your job is secure, this may be your moment, but do not assume you’ll snap up a bargain.
Liam Bailey, of Knight Frank, says this is a buyers’ market, but in London and the South-East where house-price growth has been negligible over the past five years, sellers may be more set on achieving their asking price.
If you are using Help To Buy (the scheme for new builds), try offering less than the advertised price. By June, housebuilders may oblige to meet their half-year sales targets.
Q Am I able to move home safely in the current circumstances?
A Yes, if you employ a removals business which has already established a routine focused on social distancing. But most people are packing their belongings themselves rather than leaving this to a removals company.
On moving day, you are likely to be asked to leave your home once the removals team has arrived. You should provide a kettle, but the team will bring their own tea bags.
Charles Rickards, of The Master Removers Group (masterremovers.co.uk), says teams are often from the same household, wear gloves and masks, and regularly sanitise their hands.
What your home really needs … a retro phone
In lockdown, people have been returning to the landline as a leisured means of communication
The telephone has been around since 1876 (all hail, Alexander Graham Bell). But it was two Norwegians — Johan Christian Bjerknes, an engineer, and Jean Heiberg, a painter (a pupil of Matisse, no less) — who took the device into the 20th century by incorporating the receiver into the Bakelite phone’s body.
In 1937, BT’s forerunner the General Post Office launched the 332, an impeccably elegant version of this phone. In the 1960s came the 746, a plastic push-button phone available in several zingy shades.
These advances in telecoms have been overshadowed by innovative smartphones. But in lockdown, people weary of Zoom and FaceTime have been returning to the landline as a leisured means of communication, and also a decor conversation piece.
Your home needs one of the 21st-century high-tech plug-in versions of these and other classic phones (which even allow telephone banking) because they lend 1960s Mad Men glamour to a desk.
You can gossip, plan or reminisce, with the receiver cradled between chin and shoulder, and not have to worry about wifi strength.
GPO Retro (gporetro.com) manufactures a range of phones, including the GPO 746 Rotary in orange (pictured) costing £34.93. John Lewis stocks the similar Wild & Wolf range (from £40.99, johnlewis.com).