Residential estate agents, housebuilders and lawyers acted quickly to restart the sales and lettings process – and expect activity to increase.
A change in Government lockdown guidance has allowed property activity to take place since Wednesday, May 13. But the sudden move has led to urgent rejigging of offices and working practices to accommodate social distancing measures.
At Haslams estate agent in Friar Street, Reading, the office has been reorganised and can only accommodate around 20-25 people, half the normal capacity, while others work from home.
Managing director Steve Woodford said Haslams had achieved around 20 lettings through video tours during lockdown and now, although physical viewings are taking place, he said the health and safety of customers and staff came first.
He said: “We are definitely getting more enquiries (since the change in guidance). The proof is going to be if they turn into sales.”
But he said the pipeline of new instructions has held up well throughout and he did not anticipate a major drop in prices. Confidence of buyers and sellers would be key.
He added: “It’s about the fundamentals of the market. Reading is still in a great position. There may be a correction but it’s something that only time will tell.”
Soon after the Government announcement was made, agents at Farmer & Dyer met at their Caversham office to plan the way forward but found the phones ringing constantly.
Partner Damian Farmer said there had been many national reports that the market would fall but he added: “The fact is we just don’t know. We are putting houses on the market and we are doing viewings. It could be in a few months a price reversal is possible.
“We have seen two recessions but this is different. This is not a recession. In the recessions we didn’t have buyers or sellers. This time we have got enough buyers and the mortgage rates are incredible.”
He said 95 per cent of deals that had been on hold throughout lockdown are still going through.
Farmer & Dyer has been growing over 19 years in Caversham but Mr Farmer said lockdown may lead to a rethink of the amount of office space needed.
Both he and Steve Woodford expect a gradual increase in house buying activity and Mr Farmer agreed confidence of buyers and sellers is the key.
Craig Robertson, director at David Cliff estate agent which has offices in Wokingham, Mortimer and Binfield, said all the offices will open from today (Monday, May 18) but viewing had been being arranged last week
He added: “In general we are busy. Lots of demand and we were still doing deals during lockdown.”
Housebuilder and Thames Tap partner T A Fisher has had to act quickly to put in social distancing procedures at show homes.
Managing director John Fisher told us last Friday: “The signal to re-open was given with little notice. To reopen safely and responsibly, we have to put measures in place to protect staff, sales agents and, of course, visitors. This is happening as we speak.
“We hope to be in a position to open our show houses very shortly, if not this weekend. The easing of restrictions will certainly free up existing ‘sales in progress’ many of which have been held up through mortgage delays, etc.
“Generally, people will still need to feel confident about venturing out so I suspect it will be a gradual pick-up in activity.”
Manisha Bhula, head of Blandy & Blandy solicitors’ residential property team said that nationally an estimated 450,000 property transactions were placed on hold in March and many of those buyers and sellers are keen to continue their deals.
She added: “Research published last month by Zoopla showed that sellers were continuing to list their homes, while Halifax’s data demonstrated that on average UK property prices in April were 2.7 per cent higher than in the same month a year earlier.
“The property market in Reading, Henley-on-Thames, and indeed the wider Thames Valley, is typically a very healthy one and among the most buoyant in the UK, and there is no reason to expect that this will change significantly in the medium term as lending opens up and confidence begins to return.
“At the heart of the region, Reading remains one of the best connected and fastest growing towns or cities in the UK and indeed Europe.”
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