Please note: The information contained in this article is correct as of 13/05/20. Due to the ongoing nature of the coronavirus situation, guidance is subject to change and while we will do our best to keep our blogs up to date, it is always advisable to speak with a solicitor for specific advice.

Update: The most recent information on coronavirus and conveyancing can be found here.

It seems more than almost 8 weeks since our first blog about the impact COVID-19 was having on residential conveyancing but following Sunday’s announcement of easing the restrictions on the “lockdown”, there is finally some good news for the housing market. These changes are limited to England though, with the property markets in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland remain shut.

From today (Wednesday 13th May), estate agents can open, viewings can be carried out, and removal firms and surveyors can restart operations. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has re-iterated though, that these changes to the previous restrictions must be introduced in compliance with social distancing and safety rules. Whilst there will be practicalities to work out for businesses, this news is welcome given that it is estimated there are 450,000 buyers and renters with plans on hold.

Property website Zoopla previously estimated that about 373,000 property sales had been put on hold during lockdown, with agreed sales running at about one tenth of the normal level for the time of year; a level akin to the activity usually seen in late December.

There are however concerns among some market analysts that as a result of the lockdown many people’s finances will now be less secure than they were just a few months ago when they were preparing to move.  As such, it is anticipated that there will be a lot more haggling over property prices, especially if getting a mortgage becomes harder.  It is also predicted that property priorities may change among buyers as a result of being required to work from home during the lockdown and possible work-places changes resulting from this.

Wider Changes to the Restrictions

In another move to unlock the housing market in England, Mr Jenrick announced a series of measures for the house building sector, including:

  • Allowing builders to agree more flexible working hours with their local council, such as staggering arrival times to ease pressure on public transport

  • Enabling local councils and developers to publicise planning applications through social media, instead of having to rely on posters and leaflets

  • Providing support for smaller developers by allowing them to defer payments to local councils to ease cash flow

It is hoped by the Home Builders Federation that these measures will not only contribute towards helping the economy recover but will deliver the homes the country continues to need and provide the building supply chain with the confidence needed to accelerate its own restart.

Patience at Present

In spite of the announcement on Sunday and the new guidance issued on Monday and Tuesday, it is important to bear in mind there are unlikely to be any immediate large scale changes until regulatory bodies and trade organisations have issued their own guidance to members over the next few days. Professionals and contractors affected by these changes in the restrictions will then need time to implement this guidance into their own business structures. We anticipate that most businesses will have adapted to these changes within a week or so, such is the eagerness to get the property market moving again.

These moves however are encouraging and should provide a much needed boost to national confidence and the economy. If you are considering moving home, please contact our residential conveyancing team to discuss how this can be achieved in accordance with the continuing social distancing and safety rules. They will be able to provide a conveyancing quote over the telephone or you can obtain your own here. Call us today on 0845 287 0939 or send your enquiry by email.