A flurry of agency activity was reported yesterday as the property market was officially reopened but some firms are remaining cautious when it comes to viewings and protecting staff.
The Government updated its home buying and selling guidance for during the pandemic yesterday, asking agents to favour virtual viewings initially but stating that sales could be progressed.
Rightmove said visits were up 45% on Wednesday morning compared with a day before and enquiries to agents rose by 70%.
The portal said 2,115 new properties were added in just five hours yesterday morning.
Agents also said there had been a spike in activity.
Andrews Property Group said it received 226 calls from people requesting viewings and valuations in the first hour of opening across sales and lettings.
David Westgate, group chief executive of Andrews Property Group, said: “The first hour on Wednesday offered hard evidence of the unprecedented pent-up demand in the property market right now.
“People’s lives have been on hold for the best part of two months and they are now rushing to get their moves back on track.
“There is a lot of talk that values will be hit hard in the months ahead and while that may apply to some areas where job losses are sadly high we believe the sales market overall will hold up well and that average prices will even be slightly up this time next year.
“The drastic steps the Government has taken to support the economy, coupled with record low borrowing rates and the huge bottleneck of people keen to move, will act as a glass floor under prices.
“The ongoing supply deficit will also continue to support the market.
“What’s vital now is that all estate agents adhere strictly to the social distancing rules and employ the highest safety standards to protect people viewing property, including through the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) where appropriate. Where possible, initial viewings should be virtual for the benefit of everyone involved.”
It has come at an opportune time, with the latest RICS Residential Market Survey for April showing the number of new survey instructions was at its lowest level since the series began in April 1999.
Additionally, 80% of respondents to the report said that they have seen buyer or sellers pulling out of transactions as a result of the pandemic.
The updated Government guidance said agents should encourage virtual viewings initially and then only allow physical visits by buyers with a strong interest, in which case social distancing measure must be followed.
The Government also said branches can reopen but visitors must make an appointment before entering.
Agents have been outlining how they will follow this, with some reopening immediately and others taking a more phased approach.
London agent Dexters said all its 70 offices would reopen and physical viewings will take place with agents wearing gloves and face coverings.
Prior to the viewing, all doors will be open and lights switched on, to help ensure that customers do not need to touch anything, and windows will be open to provide ventilation
Keys, cars and bikes used by Dexters’ agency staff will also be sanitised.
Marc von Grundherr, director of agent Benham and Reeves, struck a more cautious tone.
He said: “It’s great news that the Government has realised the vital role the property market plays in stimulating the wider economy and that estate and lettings agents are the ones facilitating this on the ground.
“Agents have been poised and ready to resume business since we entered into lockdown and the ability to do so will be warmly welcomed by those that have had to close offices and furlough staff.
“It’s important that we do so one step at a time and without compromising the health of our staff, our customers and the wider population but with the process of buying or renting now requiring very little face to face contact, agents should be able to adapt swiftly to this new working norm.
“We’ve already stockpiled a large amount of PPE on the advice of our offices in Asia who have been preparing for a return since January and while we can’t speak for all agents, we remain confident that we can service our customers appropriately and with the correct measures in place.”
There may also be fears from members of the public to overcome when it comes to viewings.
Iain McKenzie, chief executive of agency network The Guild of Property Professionals, predicted consumers will continue using virtual viewings as a tool during their home search to narrow down one or two homes that they would want to visit in person, before making their final decision.
A poll of 2,000 people by the Guild found around two thirds would not be comfortable seeing someone else’s property in person, with 42% saying that they are not even comfortable with the idea of leaving their home.
Despite this, 62% said that they would want to meet the seller and 60% said they would want to meet the landlord before they bought or rented a property.
As well as ensuring staff are safe, buying agent The London Resolution also questioned whether properties would need to be repriced.
Peter Sheehan, owner and director of The London Resolution, said: “Not only have property prices been affected, but residential valuations will be affected too.
“Valuation surveyors will be far more hesitant to undertake in-person research, although the applicants and the banks will no doubt insist on it.
“Where they can, we anticipate many may choose to undertake desktop surveys instead.
“The result of this, as well as banks being more risk-averse in the current financial climate, is that banks will be more likely to only accept the lower range figure of the property valuation – making it more difficult for a buyer to achieve a good loan-to-value ratio, or indeed a mortgage at all.”