Using trousers to cover faces, making offers through the window and virtual viewings – here are some ways British homebuyers are figuring out the 'new normal'
- The UK
property marketwas effectively closed at the end of March because of coronavirus restrictions, with early data showing sales down dramatically in April.
- The English property market reopened May 13, with a new focus on virtual property viewings and new safety measures introduced at every step of the process.
- Personal protective equipment and social distancing are now normal features at
homeviewings, with one woman saying she needed to cover her face with a pair of her daughter's trousers to be let in.
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A shiny suit and a flashy car used to be the essential tools for estate agents, but now you are more likely to see them with hand sanitizer and a pair of latex gloves.
Welcome to the "new normal" in the English housing market.
Restrictions on buying and selling property were removed in
The property market had been effectively closed since the end of March as social-distancing rules, bans on nonessential travel, and the closing of estate-agent branches to the public meant people couldn't easily view properties and sales couldn't proceed.
The initial UK government guidance said the legal side of a purchase — starting with the exchange of contracts and then the completion of a sale with an agreed moving date — should be delayed if possible. Home moves could take place only if they were unavoidable.
Now, there's new guidance.
The UK government has told agents they can reopen their branches as long as they follow safe working rules such as making hand-washing facilities available and ensuring staff members maintain a 2-meter distance, or about 6 feet. Members of the public need appointments to enter a branch.
With that in mind, activity appears to be resuming.
"In both sales and lettings the summer is the most popular time to move," said Jeff Doble, the chairman of the London estate-agent firm Dexters, "and so we will be helping sellers, buyers, and tenants."
Regular washing of hands and keys
Estate agents have had to make their own adaptions based on the government guidance.
Dexters says that it now has hand-washing facilities, wipes, and gels at each of its 70 offices and that members of the public need appointments to visit.
Staff temperatures and health are routinely checked, and keys are expected to be regularly sanitized.
It says its agents will wear personal protective equipment such as gloves and face coverings during viewings, and homeowners are asked to leave when visits take place.
Sellers and buyers will also be asked about their health before viewings. Under the new guidance, agents are not supposed to visit a home — and viewings should not take place — if they, the buyer, or a household member has coronavirus symptoms.
The reopening has also boosted the market for virtual property tours.
Under the previous restrictions, video tours were perhaps buyers' best and only way to see homes, but few were considered likely to make purchases based solely on this, and early data from HM Revenue & Customs indicates sales in April were down by more than half compared with the same month last year.
The latest government guidance for agents, however, advises them to still prioritize virtual viewings initially and to allow physical inspections on properties only when a buyer is seriously interested.
Matterport, which provides tools and software for agents to create 3D property tours, has said it saw a 600% monthly increase in camera sales during March and is expecting busier times now with lingering hesitance around physical viewings.
Virtual viewings may well be the norm for a while as the public gets used to letting people back into their personal space.
The Yorkshire-based estate agent Applegate Properties said there were still mixed views from sellers on letting people into their home.
"Some are extremely keen to get viewers around as soon possible, whereas others are considering whether they want people in their homes just yet," Amy Wray, the managing director of Applegate Properties, said.
"We have created videos of all vacant homes and are encouraging our home occupying vendors to do the same.
"Rental viewers remain open to taking properties via video — however, those wishing to offer on a property to buy typically want a physical viewing."
'My buyers made an offer by looking through the window'
Many buyers and sellers are quickly adapting to the new normal.
Jessica and Dave Fairhead put their home in London's Surbiton neighborhood on the market just before lockdown in March and have become used to the different ways to view properties.
"We got contacted by a couple during lockdown who were really keen, so they asked if it was OK to come but just looked through our sitting-room window and garden bifolds," Jessica Fairhead said.
"They made an offer based on that and a video tour I made."
The couple has been back to view the property since the market reopened, and Fairhead said she kept 2 meters apart and disinfected everything once they left.
The 37-year-old teacher said she and her husband had positive experiences viewing properties once lockdown restrictions were eased.
"We visited one after a virtual viewing, and apart from the ceiling height everything felt pretty accurate," she said.
"Others have just included photos of the house put to music, which doesn't give you much insight and just looks prettier."
She said the levels of social distancing had varied during physical viewings, with some agents providing personal protective equipment and others asking them to bring their own.
"We were told to bring whatever PPE we had on one visit and had latex gloves but no face coverings to one viewing," Fairhead said.
"The agent wouldn't let us in without anything to cover our faces, so my husband waited with our two little girls outside and I used one of their pairs of trousers."
'I appreciate the need to stay safe, but I also need a home'
Susan Krangton, 46, is similarly undeterred about viewing properties.
The interiors consultant sold her two-bedroom house in St. Leonards-on-Sea in the English county of East Sussex just before the market closed and viewed some vacant properties during lockdown in which an agent unlocked the door, stood back, and let her in.
"We were never close to each other — I wore gloves but wasn't at all concerned," she said.
"I appreciate the need to stay safe, but I also need a home.
"I'll wear gloves and a mask just in case but believe buying and selling can easily be done with very minimal risk to all involved.
"Going to the supermarket is far more dangerous."
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