As the UK went into lockdown at the end of March, predictions of a property crash seemed all too plausible as valuations and viewings were put on hold.
Yet with restrictions now easing, it seems the property market might emerge relatively unscathed by Coronavirus, with an ‘amazing bounce’ occurring in recent weeks. Here we look at what’s allowed if you’re planning to buy and sell - and how the pandemic has changed what we want in that dream home.
House sales in England restarted in May, with estate agents able to arrange viewings and removal firms and conveyancers getting back to work.
Curbs were slower to be lifted elsewhere, but property viewings can now take place in Wales if the property has been empty for 72 hours or deep cleaned. Social distancing must be maintained and virtual viewings should take place first.
In Scotland, property market restrictions are due to be relaxed on June 29, although the Scottish Government has said the process will be different to before Covid and that buyers and sellers should talk to their solicitor first.
In Northern Ireland, virtual viewings are encouraged in the first instance and physical viewings conducted only if the property is being seriously considered.
Recent research by property website Rightmove suggests a surge in the north, with eight out of the top 10 places with the biggest increase in buyer demand in the north west, Yorkshire and the Humber.
Top of the list comes Hereford, with a 77% increase in buyer demand in the first two weeks of June, compared to the first fortnight in March.
But the other hotspots in the top five - Wigan, Rochdale, Wilmslow and Scarborough - are all in the north, while Bolton, Bradford, Rotherham and Accrington also appear in the top 10.
The seaside town of Hastings is the only place in the south to make the list, with a healthy 56% increase in buyer interest.
It’s the million dollar question, with estate agents waiting to see the longer-term effects of the recent housing hiatus.
Richard Werth, CEO of Essex developers Troy Homes, said: “It is too early to know the longer term impact on home prices from Coronavirus, but it’s likely to create increased interest.
“There will be pent-up demand for homes from those who wanted to move but couldn’t because of the lockdown, as well as a new demand for homes from people who now are reconsidering their lives based on the new way of working.”
Chris Littlewood, co-founder of home selling platform Moveli, said: “I wish I knew! It’s a hard call and it depends on who you ask. We have seen really positive activity around the housing market, with an amazing bounce following lockdown.
“When the government announced we could hold viewings again, things quickly picked up on the phone and email, although people were not necessarily interested in viewing houses in person.
“New buyers and sellers are coming into the market and we’re seeing that buyers are less willing to compromise than they were in the past. In the last 12 months, they’ve become more picky about things such as a road being too busy or the garden being too small.”
Iain McKenzie, CEO of The Guild of Property Professionals, said: “I think it’s too early to tell the magnitude of the impact Coronavirus will have, but prices are likely to be protected from major falls. There’s a good balance between supply and demand and banks are still lending, with fixed mortgage rates at an all-time low based on interest rates of 0.1%.”
There will be temporary changes to both stamp duty in England and Northern Ireland and land transaction tax in Wales, lasting until 31 March 2021.
In England and Northern Ireland, the price at which stamp duty is charged has been raised to £500,000 with immediate effect. Ordinarily, this tax is paid on land or property sold for £125,000 or more, although first-time buyers pay no stamp duty up to £300,000.
In Wales, starting from Monday 27 July the purchase price at which land transaction tax is charged will increase from £180,000 to £250,000. This change won’t apply for any additional house purchases, such as second homes or buy to let.
According to Rightmove, flats have dropped out of the top five most-sought property styles, with houses and bungalows seeing a boom.
Nearly four in 10 (39%) buyers say lockdown has impacted on what they want from their next purchase, with a garden or an outdoors area high on the wishlist; searches for homes with a garden increased by 42% in May compared to the same month last year.
Iain said: “Covid-19 has had a massive impact on all of our lives and many people have reevaluated their idea about what they want in a home. The pandemic has left a legacy when it comes to property buying patterns, with the importance of outdoor space increasing.
“Currently, only 66% of flats have access to private outside space, compared to 97% of houses, and we may see a shift in building design”
Unsurprisingly, more than a third of buyers (36%) now want a better home workspace. Iain added: “The lockdown has proven to many sceptics that working from home is viable and even convenient.
“We don’t expect the end of offices, as many miss them and they have great social benefits. However, working from home could become more common and with it, the relative importance of commute times, broadband speeds and space for a home office.”
Home and well-being
The emotional legacy of lockdown is also set to play an enhanced role in property searches.
Elaine Penhaul, director of home interior experts Lemon and Lime Interiors, said: “Many people’s mental health and wellbeing will have taken a serious hit over the past few months and there’s no doubt that many family dynamics will have changed, with more families looking for properties with home office space and playrooms.”
We could also see a shift from cities to rural areas, reflecting that demand for properties in Hereford.
Chris said: “What will be interesting is whether the pandemic will drive people to sell their London homes and move further out. People are assessing their lifestyles and we’re waiting to see whether this will be the point of re-balance.
“Everyone realises the need to re-balance but, until now, that point has usually come in the mid-40s. Now we’re seeing people in their 30s reach that point, and the possibility of working remotely could have a long-term impact on the make-up of London properties.”
With virtual viewings more important than ever, Elaine’s advice is to invest time in ensuring your property stands out online.
"Customers will expect to not only see beautifully staged homes but also high-quality videos, virtual staged tours, and images,” she said. “These are all changes the industry must be prepared to respond to, to capture the buyer’s eye and give them a true representation of the property.”
Iain agrees. “If you want to achieve the optimum results when putting your home on the market, it is more important than ever to stand out from the crowd to gain a competitive edge,” he said.
“To sell a home at the best possible price within the best possible time frame requires two crucial elements; working with the right property professional and some effort on your part as the seller.
“There’s no need to completely change your home or embark on a costly renovation project; it’s simply about looking at ways to highlight your home’s key selling points.
“Subtle changes can make a big difference. Well-chosen, contemporary updates can revamp the entire home, giving it a modern, fresh look and feel without breaking the bank. A new coat of paint and tidying up is already a great start to ensuring that the home is in show-day condition.”
Take a look at the best things to do to help sell your home.
Other small but effective changes can include refreshing the taps and lighting in a bathroom, professionally cleaning carpets or re-varnishing wooden flooring. Sprucing up that all-important garden by jet-washing decking and patios and adding attractive potted plants, will also impress.