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COVID-19: English housing market re-opens today

13 May 2020

The UK economy shrank at its fastest pace in more than a decade during the first three months of the year as COVID-19 forced the country into lockdown. To alleviate the impact, the Government published its recovery plan on Monday 11 May which includes its revised social distancing guidelines known as ‘Staying Alert and Safe.’  The guidance forms part of the Government’s broader aim to kick-start the residential housing market whilst maintaining social distancing.

From today anyone in England can move home if they follow new Government guidance. This means that both purchasers and renters will be able to view properties in person and complete purchases whilst complying with social distancing guidelines.

The plans allow estate agents’ offices to re-open; permits viewings and the re-opening of show homes as well as physical rather than desktop mortgage valuations and surveys. Additionally, removal companies and other essential parts of the sales and letting process may today resume.

More detailed guidance is expected to follow in the coming days but it is expected that the Government will insist that those viewing or accessing properties should observe strict social distancing rules, perhaps limiting viewing to only 15 minutes and requiring that any current occupier leaves the property whilst viewings are taking place, together with use of face masks and hand sanitisers.

The Government’s initiatives also aim to increase flexibility for developers to allow construction to resume safely. The changes include allowing construction sites to agree more flexible working hours with their local council; the publication of planning applications through social media instead of having to rely on posters and leaflets; and allowing smaller developers to defer some payments to local councils.

This will be welcome news for sellers, purchasers and developers alike with some 450,000 people in the middle of a house move when lockdown was imposed on the 23 March.

Given the current economic uncertainty, and as highlighted by the Office for National Statistics’ decision yesterday to suspend the House Price Index for now, the impact of the pandemic on house prices and how quickly the market will bounce back remains to be seen.

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