Lockdown 2 will not include a second lockdown of the UK housing market. Within hours of the announcement by the Prime Minister, Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, confirmed that renters and homeowners will be able to move; removal firms and estate agents can operate; construction sites can and should continue; and tradespeople will be able to enter homes.
RICS also confirmed that, where appropriate, professional surveying services can continue, in a safe and secure manner, and that all activities must be done in accordance with existing government guidelines.
In short, it’s business as usual.
When the property market reopened in May after the first lockdown, RICS provided detailed guidance for surveyors carrying out property inspections. I was involved in helping to draft the guidance, which was based on practical first-hand knowledge of what would be required. The full details are available here, but the main points require surveyors to wear appropriate PPE, maintain distance from any occupiers of the property, aim for minimal amount of contact with surfaces and sanitize equipment. In the heightened atmosphere of a second lockdown, there will clearly be greater emphasis on surveyors exercising caution, but the detail of this guidance remains.
Today’s business as usual is, of course, very different to standard trading environments we have known in the past. The property market has been turbo-charged since the easing of the first lockdown and announcement of the stamp duty holiday and it has exhibited some very particular trends.
The second lockdown is likely to entrench those trends of people looking for houses with more space, both inside and outdoors, and will most probably encourage even more people to move out of large cities and suburban areas. I recently spoke to someone from a removal firm who said they are used to providing 160 quotes a month. At the moment they are averaging more than 300 quotes a month and most of these were for people leaving London and heading to the sea and countryside.
It will be interesting to see what stance the government takes regarding the end of the stamp duty holiday for properties valued up to £500,000, which is scheduled for the end of March. There are already delays in the system, leading to speculation that many current transactions may not complete in time to beat the deadline, and the property industry has called upon the government to take action to avoid a cliff edge. This second lockdown adds weight to those calls. It may well slow activity in the market, which could help to clear the backlog being experienced across the chain from mortgage lenders through to surveyors, conveyancers and local councils carrying out searches, but will also provide added considerations and potentially more delays.
It's business as usual as it can be at the moment. People continue to be driven to move home, motivated by personal and lifestyle reasons and there is still no sign of this activity softening. Amidst the chaos and uncertainty, the property market is a positive beacon and a sign that people are finding ways to get on with their lives.