Property market

Property market reopens but 'the great unknown is how cautious surveyors will be with their valuations'

As of yesterday (12th May) anyone in England can move home if they follow new guidance published by housing secretary Robert Jenrick.

The Health Protection Regulations previously prohibited home moves unless “reasonably necessary”.

Since lockdown restrictions were imposed in March, more than 450,000 people have been unable to progress their plans to move house.
All buyers and renters will now be able to complete purchases and view properties in person, while estate agents, conveyancers and removals firms can return to work, while following social distancing guidelines.

Government guidance clarifies that tradespeople, including fitters, can operate in homes, provided they do so in line with health guidance.
Show homes can also reopen, following social distancing guidance.

The government has ordered that guidance from Public Health England must continue to be followed.

For example, anyone advised to self-isolate should continue to do so and not move home.

To unlock the housing market, Jenrick announced a series of measures:

  • allowing builders to agree more flexible construction site working hours with their local council, such as staggering builders’ arrival times, easing pressure on public transport
  • anabling local councils and developers to publicise planning applications through social media instead of having to rely on posters and leaflets, helping to unblock the service
  • support for smaller developers by allowing them to defer payments to local councils, helping those struggling with their cash flow, while ensuring communities still receive funding towards local infrastructure in the longer term

The government and the Home Builders Federation has also launched a new charter to help construction sites reopen in line with latest health and safety guidance.

The Safe Working Charter complements detailed guidance available from the Construction Leadership Council on further reducing the risk of infection onsite.

“Our clear plan will enable people to move home safely, covering each aspect of the sales and letting process—from viewings to removals,” said Jenrick.

“Our step-by-step plan is based on the latest guidance to ensure the safety and protection of everyone involved.

“This critical industry can now safely move forward, and those waiting patiently to move can now do so.”

In recent weeks, many housebuilders have commenced a gradual return to work in a phased way to ensure the safety of its workforce and the general public.
“The industry sustains hundreds of thousands of people in numerous roles and associated sectors, boosting local economies across the country,” stated Stewart Baseley, executive chairman at the Home Builders Federation.

“A resumption of work will play a major part in helping the economy recover, as well as delivering the homes the country needs.
“It should also provide the supply chain with the confidence it needs to accelerate its own restart.”

Industry reacts

Andrew Montlake, managing director at Coreco, said that many anxious buyers would be “relieved” that they can now continue with their transactions after “weeks in limbo”.

“There is still a long way to go before we have a fully functional housing market, but this is a tentative first step in the right direction and cause for celebration.

“The great unknown is how cautious surveyors will be with their valuations and lenders their criteria — but that will become apparent in the days and weeks ahead.”

Joe Arnold, managing director at Arnold & Baldwin Chartered Surveyors, commented that the announcement was excellent news for the property market, “as it means that we are effectively back in business.” 

“It does state, however, digital inspections are to be undertaken where possible and physical inspections should be avoided.

“At Arnold & Baldwin, we believe the best way to truly understand the condition and value of a property is with a physical inspection, and our surveyors are prepared with the right guidance and equipment to begin visiting properties again.
“We also recognise, however, that remote valuations are going to be an integral part of the market for quite some time, and so we have introduced a menu of options for lenders that addresses some of the limitations of remotely valuing a property, including ways of mitigating the risk on more unusual properties and addressing the restrictive parameters of some funding arrangements, which do not traditionally permit remote valuations.”
Arnold & Baldwin will be publishing more details on these in the coming days.

National valuations firm, SDL Surveying, has today announced that its surveyors will begin physical inspections with immediate effect, and is able to book valuation appointments for both existing and new cases.

It stated that, where appropriate, desktop valuations would now be replaced with physical inspections for SDL’s staff and network surveyors, with remote valuations returning to the minority, thanks to the return of physical surveys.

The firm also revealed that its surveyors and booking team have now been brought out of furlough in order to begin working through its lender clients’ backlog of physical inspections.
“The nature of the threat from COVID-19 means that safety is of paramount importance which is why we’ve put in place a new full inspection procedure that each surveyor will be using on every job,” said Simon Jackson, managing director at SDL Surveying.

“We are anticipating a large volume of backlog cases to be completed over the next seven to 10 days, which is why we have moved all our surveyors and booking team out of furlough in order to make sure we get through this work as quickly as possible.”

Andrew reported that demand was still there, after receiving a lot more enquiries in May, with many people now looking to move to more rural areas, given the perceived reduced risk from future peaks and pandemics.

“It’s vital that all those working in the property industry, as well as buyers and sellers, landlords and tenants, are kept as safe as possible,” he said.

“This is a chance for everyone in the property market to show their professionalism and lead from the front.”

“Moving home is a highly emotive process,” highlighted David Westgate, group chief executive at Andrews Property Group, adding that the reignition of the property market would help boost the nation’s spirits.

“Adherence to social distancing and the highest safety standards will be absolutely paramount and all precautions will be taken to protect people viewing property, including through the use of PPE equipment where appropriate.

“There are differing views on how the property market will shape up as the lockdown is gradually eased but we expect to see significant activity moving forward with a huge initial surge in pent-up demand.

“It will be the first quarter of next year before the property market finally gets into its stride again,” claimed David, “but, for now, it is off the canvas and back in the fight.”

“It’s a brave new world, but the viewings must go on,” stated Lucy Pendleton, property expert at independent estate agents James Pendleton.

“We’ve got all the necessary PPE ready to go, and buyers and sellers keen to start viewing straight away.
“…We will find out sooner rather than later whether some of the more dire predictions for the housing market will come true. 

“In London, we have seen absolutely no sign of the conditions that would normally precipitate a marked fall in prices—we expect a similar picture to be playing out across the country. 

“Lack of supply exacerbated by sellers delaying their moves until after the pandemic has eased significantly is going to put a floor under prices, much like it did during the Brexit negotiations. 

“Borrowing rates are extremely low too, and that’s going to boost buying power.”

Jonathan Hopper, CEO at Garrington Property Finders, believed that, for the next few days at least, the new motto for the sector would be ‘education, education, education’ as agents take a crash course in how to conduct socially-distant viewings safely.

“The real question is what sort of market they will find as they pull up their shutters.
“The lockdown may have halted conventional viewings, but there are plenty of signs that some would-be buyers have used the past six weeks to window shop in earnest.”

Miles Robinson, head of mortgages at online mortgage broker Trussle, believed the new regulations should provide the property market with a “much needed boost” after the lockdown period.

“Reallowing surveyors to enter homes, as long as a distance of two metres is maintained, means that physical valuations can get going again,” he said.

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen desktop valuations acting as a stop gap in an attempt to keep surveys happening. 

“A high proportion of those desktop valuations have only been for those with a LTV of less than 75%.

“Additionally, some properties require a physical valuation—these include those in flood risk areas, those with previous adverse valuations, and some new-build properties. 

“While surveyors can now enter the home, it’s important to stress that visits are still only advised when absolutely essential.” 

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