Moving house allowed as restrictions lifted in England

The government has set out plans to restart England’s housing market, which has been in deep freeze since the coronavirus lockdown. Estate agents can now open, viewings can be carried out and removal firms and conveyancers can restart operations to reinvigorate the struggling property market.

The restart comes as Nationwide house price index reveals the first signs of a drop in house prices. The property market looked like it was bouncing back in 2020, getting off to its strongest start for four years. But the coronavirus impact on the housing market slammed the breaks on growth.

The change to regulations is hoped to reinvigorate a property market struggling under the Covid-19 restrictions – which left around £82bn worth of transactions on hold.

What are the new rules on moving house in lockdown?

Under the new guidelines and as long as the Government’s social distancing guidelines are adhered to, the following are now permitted

  • Visiting estate or letting agents, developer sales offices or show homes
  • Viewing residential properties to look for a property to buy or rent
  • Preparing a residential property to move in
  • Moving home
  • Visiting a residential property to undertake any activities required for the rental or sale of that property

These should be conducted by appointment only, according to the Government’s advice and no open house viewings should take place. During the viewings, it is advised:

  • The seller should open all internal doors and allow access to handwashing facilities
  • Sellers are also encouraged to vacate their property during the viewing
  • All parties involved in the viewing should wash their hands and avoid touching surfaces
  • Estate agents should follow social distancing rules whenever possible

Reaction to the housing market reopening

Property professionals welcomed the moves, saying they could help to release some of the “pent-up demand” in the market, which has ground to a halt in recent weeks.

According to property website Zoopla, around 373,000 property transactions across the UK, with a total value of £82bn, have been put on hold due to lockdown measures.

Some lenders also recently withdrew low-deposit mortgages from the market amid difficulties in valuing homes during the lockdown, although some new deals have come on to the market since.

In a joint statement, David Cox, chief executive of ARLA (Association of Residential Letting Agents) Propertymark and Mark Hayward, chief executive of NAEA (National Association of Estate Agents) Propertymark, said: “It’s great news for consumers and the industry that the housing market is being opened up and people can let, rent, buy and sell properties again. The new regulations provide clarity to agents and will allow them to deal with pent-up demand from consumers.”

 Housing market predictions from the experts

Economists and housing experts are forecasting UK-wide price falls of up to 13%, with “brutal” declines in some areas, as the property market struggles to rebuild during the coronavirus crisis.

At one end of the forecast is the Centre for Economics and Business Research, which predicts that 2020 prices will be down by 13% “as a lack of transactions, high uncertainty and falling incomes take their toll”. But the estate agent Savills said the hit to the market could be more like 5%, and a third of valuation surveyors are predicting that price falls may be limited to 4% or less.

The post-lockdown market will be a buyer’s market, said Jonathan Hopper of Garrington Property Finders, as he forecast falls of 10% nationally and 15% in some areas.

“Areas with a more resilient jobs market should see values hold up better, but elsewhere the price correction could be more brutal,” he said.

The reopening of the housing market will unlock a lot of stalled transactions, said Lucian Cook, Savills’ head of residential research. But he added: “We expect newly agreed deals to take time to rebuild as buyers gradually rebuild confidence. More immediately, things like viewings and mortgage valuations will rely on homeowners being comfortable with measures put in place to protect their safety.”


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