The latest housing market report from Rightmove has revealed that, for the second month running, there were too few properties coming to market to accurately measure movement in new asking prices despite pent-up home-mover momentum.
Newly released data from the portal showed that home- mover visits to the site hit pre-lockdown daily levels, and were up 4% on the same Wednesday in 2019.
However, the shock re-opening of the housing market understandably came with stringent government Covid-19 safety guidelines so that the home-moving process can be a safe one. The industry needs to immediately adapt to comply with both these guidelines and changing home-mover housing requirements.
Miles Shipside, Rightmove director and housing market analyst comments: “The traditionally busy spring market was curtailed by lockdown, but we’re now seeing clear signs of returning momentum, with the existing desire to move now being supplemented by some people’s unhappiness with their lockdown home and surroundings. Some may be unable or unwilling to move now, but those who are ready to take the plunge have jumped immediately into action.
"Unique enquiries on property for sale doubled from the day before, though we expect consistent momentum to rebuild over several months rather than weeks. With no new seller asking price data it’s too early to comment on price movements, though high demand is needed to support a stable market.
"If there are attractive lower deposit mortgages available it would help sustain the recovery in activity. The industry has been caught by surprise, as we were all expecting the housing market to stay closed until at least June.”
To control the spread of the virus, the government has produced housing-sector guidelines including stringent social distancing measures. As these are the new norm, home-movers and estate agents need to immediately adapt to the biggest ever changes in the way that homes are marketed and viewed. The government states that initial viewings should ideally be virtual, with technology allowing the use of a variety of video options. That content will also prove to be effective to highlight homes that have suitable spaces for working from home, which may now be towards the top of must-have lists for many buyers whose commuting life has been curtailed for the foreseeable future. Conversely, proximity to stations or motorways and short journey to work times may become less important.
Agents will have direct experience of the need for a suitable workspace in a home, as some of their own high street premises will not be able to accommodate all of their staff or visiting customers while maintaining social distancing. Organising physical viewings will also mean estate agents taking on the unfamiliar task of health screening, as they quiz both sellers and buyers for Covid-19 symptoms or vulnerabilities, so they will be keen to follow the government guidance that the buyers who want to view in person should be serious.
Shipside predicts: “These guidelines are understandably stringent to make sure the process can be carried out safely. It’s especially important for the recovery of transaction volumes that prospective buyers and existing and future sellers feel reassured enough to re-engage with their pent-up housing needs, but safety is the top priority for all and so it will take time.
"All parties will have to be innovative to work effectively while adhering to these guidelines. There are many benefits, including freeing sellers of the need to maintain a constant state of tidiness and letting them avoid the frustration of no-shows often associated with frequent physical viewings. High demand could lead to a boost in values for properties that offer inspiring home-working options. But on the other hand, the extra value for a property being close to a popular commuter route may diminish if working from home becomes the new norm.
"We already saw some early signs of people enquiring more about out-of-city areas so it will be interesting to see if this leads to a change in where people choose to buy now the market has been unlocked.”