Estate agents in England report surge of interest as tax cut spurs on homebuyers
Virtual viewings, no open-house tours, and getting out of the city are the order of the day for would-be homebuyers spurred to action by this week’s announcement of a stamp duty holiday on the first £500,000 paid for a new home
Estate agents have reported a surge in interest from buyers and sellers since the chancellor announced the tax break for buyers in England and Northern Ireland in his summer statement.
Many estate agents had already experienced a surge in interest after the housing market in England was released from lockdown in May, and said Rishi Sunak’s intervention, which will save buyers up to £15,000, has further fuelled interest.
Hamptons International reported a mixed picture at its branches, with some seeing “more of a trickle than a deluge” of inquiries. Its Islington branch was one of the busy ones, and reported that buyers were increasing their offers as a result of the tax cut.
At its Salisbury branch, Chris Husson-Martin, associate director, said calls had doubled since the chancellor’s statement. “By Wednesday night, Saturday’s appointments were full and we are nearly booked up for next Saturday,” he said. “On the day, we had a few offers which we had been negotiating on where people quickly came back and said now they could offer more. The money is going into the chain and enabling sales all the way up.”
The branch typically attracts buyers moving from London, and Husson-Martin said he thought lockdown had persuaded many people to bring their plans forward by three or four years because they expected to be able to work from home more as a result of the pandemic. “So many calls we are getting are people asking ‘has it got a study?’, ‘is there a home office?’,” he said.
Robin Chatwin, of Savills in south-west London, said there were always sellers moving out of London from the Clapham-to-Richmond swathe of the capital that he covered, and he did not expect a mass exodus. “What we’re seeing now is this year’s cohort of people moving and we’ve got next year’s group leaving too.”
However, his colleague Andrew Perratt, head of country residential sales for Savills, said there had been a “significant increase” in interest from buyers living in London and looking in the Cotswolds, Wiltshire and Hampshire.
On Saturday, Husson-Martin and two colleagues will be conducting viewings between 8am to 4pm. Buyers will be asked to wear masks and gloves, and will only be able to enter the property in twos. Doors will be opened before the enter, and afterwards the viewing agents will disinfect everything that has been touched.
Viewings will be socially distanced and contactless, with agents opening doors before viewers enter, and telling people not to touch anything. Virtual viewings, pre-recorded and watched on laptops or phones, are being encouraged.
Adam Horton, of the east Midlands-based agency Hortons, said: “We can’t run open houses or ‘block viewings’ where multiple people are in the property. We’re encouraging them to view video tours to reduce the number of speculative viewings, then spacing viewings out so they don’t overlap.” In small properties where distancing is hard, his team is wearing PPE for viewings.
According to estate agents contacted by the Guardian, some sellers have suspended their sales because they cannot offer viewings.
Ali Shaygan, an agent for Yopa, who covers east London, said Wednesday’s announcement had prompted a rush of homeowners to request valuations. “The thing I didn’t expect though is that people whose properties we valued maybe six months ago have come back to us,” he said. “They had no intention to sell, but now they want to come to the market.”
Shaygan said that in his part of London buyers traditionally sold up and moved out, either to leafier parts of the city or into Essex. “People are looking for outdoor space after lockdown, but that tends to happen anyway at this time of year.”
Among wealthy buyers, the stamp duty cut would not make much difference, said Mark Lawson of The Buying Solution, which seeks out houses for wealthy buyers. He said the impact would be on sales up to £1m, but he feared it would not lead to savings for buyers. “I think it will be very, very quickly eroded by competitive bidding,” he said. “It will benefit the sellers, not the buyers.”
His agency has seen a spike in interest in properties outside cities. “What we’ve really noticed is that people who were looking to be within an hour of London and Birmingham are now happy to be within an-hour-and-a-half or two hours because they’ve realised they can change how they work.”
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