Coronavirus: Government warns over house moves as market freezes

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2 min read
The corner of St John's road and Ayers road from the top of St John's Church. Trafford, Manchester. Greater Manchester. (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)
Properties in Manchester as the UK housing market freezes up. (In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)

The UK government has urged anyone buying or selling property to delay moving, as the housing market rapidly thaws over the coronavirus.

Even buyers and sellers who have exchanged contracts are encouraged to move only once official stay-at-home rules have been lifted, unless they cannot legally or practically reach an agreement to delay completion.

The government is working with conveyancers to develop a “standard legal process” to move agreed completion dates, and with banks to extend mortgage offers.

Other measures outlined in new detailed guidance on Friday are likely to force much of the property market into hibernation during the current lockdown to contain Covid-19.

Read more: Zoopla warns coronavirus will paralyse UK property market

Estate agents have been told not to open branches or visit homes for market appraisals, while surveyors have been told to avoid non-urgent surveys of occupied properties. Renters are also encouraged to delay moving house where possible.

Property site Zoopla has predicted a 60% slump in transactions in the months ahead. Rightmove scrapped its dividend and stopped offering its investors financial guidance on Friday, and has already offered estate agents 75% relief on fees as their revenue slides.

But “critical” home moves are permitted, and the government said transactions should go ahead on time as normal if a property being sold is vacant.

“There is no need to pull out of transactions,” the official advice states. “In the new emergency enforcement powers that the police have been given to respond to coronavirus, there is an exemption for critical home moves, in the event that a new date is unable to be agreed.

Leading banks have agreed to extend mortgage offers by up to three months for buyers who have already exchanged. Stephen Jones, chief executive of banking trade body UK Finance, said lenders would also seek to facilitate delays in chains containing anyone currently “shielding or self-isolating.”

Read more: How coronavirus fears threaten to upset the property market

But some banks have begun to cut back on new mortgage lending. Lloyds has temporarily cut mortgage products via its broker channel Halifax Intermediaries, Scottish Widows Bank and BM Solutions where buyers want to borrow more than 60% of a property’s value. Barclays has also withdrawn some residential and buy-to-let products.

Buyers had been holding back amid heightened concerns over the growing health crisis even before the current lockdown.

Separate figures show UK workers’ fears for their jobs are at an eight-year high, while fears about infections during viewings and the future of the market had already taken a toll on activity.

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