The housing market has been given the green light to reopen after the Government announced it would lift the ban on property viewings and valuations taking place.
From Wednesday, people will be allowed to travel to visit estate agents, letting agents or show homes, keeping in line with social distancing guidelines. House buyers will also be permitted to view residential properties they wish to buy or rent.
All activities required to facilitate the sale of rental of a home are also able to resume, including property valuers attending properties.
The details were in a statutory instrument that is to be put to Parliament on Wednesday.
Trade bodies including the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors have been in discussion with the Government about how property visits can take place while observing social distancing rules.
The property market has been frozen since late March, and more than 450,000 buyers and renters have been unable to move house, according to the Government. There had been concerns that a prolonged shutdown would lead to a loss of confidence among buyers.
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However even with the lockdown rules eased, Becky Munday, of Munday’s Estate Agents in south London, said that many sellers would still be uncomfortable with the idea of other people visiting their home.
“I met someone the other day to give the keys for a completion, that was kind of my test run,” said Ms Munday. “She was heavily pregnant, I was observing a physical distance but she wasn’t. It’s about people’s behaviour. And everyone knows that removal men can’t be two metres apart.”
NAEA Propertymark, an estate agent trade body, said it had discussed easing the lockdown rules with the Government. This included proposed guidelines such as limiting the amount of time spent in the property during viewings, wearing gloves and masks, leaving all lights and doors open, and for vendors to wait in the garden or go on their daily exercise.
However, it and other property groups were blindsided by the announcement late on Tuesday evening. Some estate agents were expecting to be able to reopen in June, when non-essential retail may be allowed to open.
Aside from the dangers of physical interactions, there will also be problems with contracts. If buyers exchange and then have to self-isolate, they will break the terms of their contracts. Lawyers are discussing Covid clauses, said Ms Munday, but “it is a bit of a minefield”.
Caroline Takla of The Collection, a buying agency, said that in future buyers could have to meet a list of rules before they are given access to a property for viewings.
“This could potentially range from bringing a mask and gloves to ensuring that sanitiser is used before and after the viewing and that nothing is touched,” she said.
“It’s conceivable that some agents may move towards branding masks and utilising them as new marketing paraphernalia, in much the same way as they already do with, for example, umbrellas.”
The Government also announced further measures to help the industry, including allowing planning applications to be publicised on social media, allowing smaller developers struggling with cashflow to defer payments to local authorities, and allowing building sites to have flexible working hours to stagger timings.
By Adam Williams and Melissa Lawford