From Monday 15 June, the housing market was open and allowed to operate as part of the relaxation of the Covid-19 guidelines — but government ministers were keen to point out that this isn’t a return to business as usual.
Restrictions and new ways of working have been introduced, covering almost every element of the traditional home purchase, in order to ensure “a safe return to market activity”.
“The process of finding and moving into another home will need to be different, given those involved in the process will have to adopt practices and procedures to ensure that the risk of spread of coronavirus is reduced as far as possible,” say the government guidelines.
Among the main changes are:
- Virtual initial viewings.
- Vacating your property whiel prospective buyers are shown around — for example, the house-owner could stand in the garden to maintain social distance.
- Anyone viewing a property should wear a mask and gloves or if not wearing gloves should avoid touching surfaces.
- The property-owner should ensure the property is thoroughly cleaned before buyers view.
First-time house-buyer Aoibhinn Boyle said the new process “was weird but worked well”. “We are getting used to everything being a little strange in this day and age. We were met by the agent at the property we were viewing but he stayed outside. Afterwards, we were able to speak in the driveway but kept social distancing. In the house, we wore gloves and a mask — the agent also had a mask ready to put on.” A first-time buyer, Aoibhinn was hoping to enjoy a drop in price due to Covid – but saw no evidence of one being offered at this stage.
Tony Donnelly of Northern Property said buyers were searching for what has become known as “a Covid discount”. “Our advice to sellers is, if you need to drop the price by a grand to secure the sale, then you should seriously consider doing so. However, this isn’t a trend we see as continuing.”
Tony said demand was high in the first week of business since mid-March. “It’s great to be back selling and valuing houses but of course we were never really closed down as we had rental properties to manage throughout the crisis,” he said. The estate agent was also prominent in efforts to secure accommodation for healthcare workers who didn’t want to stay in their own homes during the emergency for fear that they would spread the disease to their own family. “In total, we found accommodtion for 90 frontline health staff,” adds Tony.
In its first week, back Northern Property offices have received “hundreds and nearly up a thousand inquiries”, he says.
“We are all hitting the ground running. The surveyors are back and we are doing valuations and getting some appointments so it’s all-stations-go here.”
In its latest House Price Index, the Northern Ireland Statistics Office NISRA says house sales were effectively put on pause once the pandemic hit. The report predicted that “it is likely to be a number of months before the housing market and sales volumes return to pre-coronavirus levels.”
“Phenomenal.” That’s how Des McGranaghan of McGranaghan’s Estate Agents describes demand in the re-opened property market.
“We listed 14 houses just last week and have eight agreed,” he said. “I can’t explain the surge in demand but it may be that people are not going on holidays and haven’t been spending during the lockdown and feel they can put money into a new home.”
The veteran property market agent also praised the government response to the pandemic. “The rates relief, furlough grants and financial support has made a difference to families and ensured the economy didn’t tank,” he said. “I don’t often praise the Executive but their handling of this has been excellent.”
Des says his staff have swiftly adapted to the Covid-19 guidelines for the property sector. “We explain everything to customers and, to be honest, they are grateful that we are following guidelines which are to their benefit and to our benefit. Before a customer arrives at a house for a viewing, we will have entered to open all doors so they can do a clear walk-through. The number of viewers is limited to two but we will usually line up three couples and allow them to enter one after the other while our representative stays outside.”
Both customers and McGranaghans staff are equiped with PPE.
“It’s the new norm,” adds Des, “and it’s working better than we dared to hope.”