The UK housing market will remain open during lockdown, allowing property viewings to continue and people to move home. This is in stark contrast to the first lockdown, which saw the market grind to a halt for seven weeks.
Estate agents and other staff will continue to carry out their work while adhering to coronavirus guidelines, such as wearing face coverings and social distancing.
Tomer Aboody at bridging loans specialist MT Finance said: “We feel the market won’t be disrupted as it was last year because there is an end in sight, thanks to the roll-out of the vaccine programme.
“This, along with the fact that valuers and solicitors can still work and there is still access to properties, should provide further confidence for the market as a whole. Borrowers, in turn, will feel more confident that their transactions will complete.”
Government guidelines for moving home remain the same, including:
- Initial viewings should be done virtually wherever possible
- Members of the public who are visiting an agent’s office or viewing a property should wear a suitable face covering unless they are exempt from this requirement. This should be confirmed with the agent before arrival. Anyone with concerns should contact the agent in advance of their visit to discuss appropriate measures.
- Viewings should be arranged by appointment only and ‘open house’ viewings should not take place. When viewing properties in person, you should avoid touching surfaces wherever possible, wash your hands regularly and/or use hand sanitiser. If you need to be accompanied by small children, you should try to keep them from touching surfaces and ensure they wash their hands regularly.
Industry seeks stamp duty holiday extension
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced in July last year that, for residential properties in England and Northern Ireland, buyers would not have to pay stamp duty land tax (SDLT) on the first £500,000 of the purchase price until 31 March 2021.
In Wales and Scotland, the first £250,000 of the transaction value is exempt from property tax until the same date.
However, there are fears that the end of the SDLT holiday will cause the housing market to go into decline after March, with some industry experts calling for an extension to the deadline.
Mr Aboody said: “What this lockdown means is that the stamp duty holiday will have to be extended, if not made permanent. The Chancellor must look at the deadline again, in light of this unexpected lockdown. The end of the stamp duty holiday should either be postponed or taken off the agenda for now, to prevent any further halt or disruption to the already-battered economy.”
David Hannah of property tax consultancy Cornerstone Tax suggests that more should be done to help first-time buyers onto the property ladder and give the housing market more security: “It is critical that the government reviews this stamp duty holiday, and either announces an extension or amends the tax payment date so that homebuyers can still take advantage of the holiday even if they cannot complete by 31 March.
“The most preferable option would be a phasing out of the holiday, to avoid those who are currently in the process of purchasing their properties, essentially being thrown off a cliff-edge.”
Situation in Scotland
New lockdown regulations in Scotland state that you should only leave your home for a reasonable excuse. This includes to: “move home or undertake activities in connection with the maintenance, purchase, sale, letting, or rental of residential property that the person owns or is otherwise responsible for”.
Where possible, people, including those in the property industry, should work from home until at least the end of January.
Market moves to digital
Many estate agents have accelerated or introduced innovative methods of carrying out day-to-day operations to accommodate social distancing measures, such as live-streamed auctions and virtual viewings.
Utsav Goenka at VYOMM, a property portal for sellers, said: “Without doubt both buyers and sellers want to do more digitally, and limit physical meetings only to those that are essential. Regrettably, most estate agents have little to offer beyond virtual viewings, which though welcome, are only partially and occasionally useful.
“The industry needs enablement at a completely different level where sellers can appoint agents who can market and sell the homes effectively, without necessitating repeat physical exposure to each other.”