Buyers and renters in England can once again view properties in person and move home.
The government has announced that estate agents and show homes can reopen their doors and offer viewings from today. Other property professionals, such as removals companies and house surveyors, are also allowed to recommence work.
Here, Which? explains the government’s new guidance for people buying and renting homes.
Property market reopens after lockdown
After seven weeks on hold, the government has freed its restrictions on the property market, allowing buyers and tenants in England to view properties and move home from 13 May.
This news will come as a relief to the 450,000 people the government says have been unable to progress their plans to move since stay-at-home measures were introduced in March.
The Scottish government is set to relax rules on moving home ‘on or after’ 18 June. Wales and Northern Ireland are yet to announce any changes to their current lockdown rules.
- Find out more: buying a house – advice from Which?
Can I move home from today?
Yes. Buyers and sellers in England can now move house, put their homes on the market and view new properties to move into.
And estate agents can visit properties to conduct valuations, and take photos and videos.
Although in-person house viewings are now permitted, the government has advised that home movers should conduct the majority of their property searches online to ward against the spread of coronavirus.
- Find out more: how to sell your house
Will estate agents’ offices be open?
Agent should only allow clients to visit branches by appointment, and they must ask if anyone in the customer’s household is showing coronavirus symptoms or has been asked to self-isolate before permitting visits or arranging viewings.
In the first instance, agents are advised to offer virtual house viewings. They should only conduct in-person viewings when the buyer or tenant is strongly considering making an offer.
Open-house viewings aren’t permitted and agents won’t be able to drive clients to appointments.
Sales offices at new-build developments can also reopen. Developers are advised to ‘promote virtual viewings’, but in-person viewings can be conducted by appointment, one household at a time.
- Find out more: tips on viewing a show home
How will house viewings work?
Viewings should be arranged by appointment and should be accompanied by an agent.
During viewings, social distancing measures must be adopted and all parties must wash their hands immediately upon entering the home. Viewers are advised to bring their own hand sanitiser and avoid touching surfaces. If social distancing isn’t possible, viewers and agents should consider wearing a face mask.
If possible, the current occupants should vacate the property during viewings to minimise contact with other households. They should allow access to hand-washing facilities and ideally provide separate towels or paper towels.
After the viewing, the property owner or tenant should clean surfaces and door handles, and wash towels.
Find out more: house-viewing checklist
How about conveyancers, surveyors and removals firms?
As much of their work can be done remotely, conveyancers and property solicitors have been able to operate throughout the lockdown and will continue to do so now.
The government has reiterated its advice that conveyancers ensure contracts are as flexible as possible to accommodate the risk of moves needing to be delayed if one of the parties shows coronavirus symptoms.
Surveyors are now allowed to undertake property surveys for home buyers, subject to these rules:
- Surveyors shouldn’t enter properties where a member of the household is showing coronavirus symptoms or self-isolating.
- Inspections should be by appointment only, with just one person visiting the property at a time.
- Surveyors should follow social distancing rules.
- Sellers should ensure the surveyor has access to all parts of the property and should minimise contact, for example by staying in another room.
When it comes to mortgage surveys, many banks were offering automated or ‘desktop’ valuations during lockdown to allow them to continue to process applications. We are contacting banks to find out whether they will now be relaunching physical valuations.
Removals companies are allowed to operate. Buyers and sellers have been given the following guidance on working with firms:
- Contact removals firms as early as possible in advance of your move.
- Do as much of the packing as you can yourself and, where possible, clean your belongings.
- When the removalists are in your home, open all internal doors so they don’t have to, and adhere to social distancing rules.
- Don’t provide refreshments, but do offer access to hand-washing facilities, using separate towels or paper towels if possible.
Removals firms are advised to implement a ‘buddy’ system to ensure the same people work together when moving furniture, and have been instructed to delay any moves where a member of the household is showing coronavirus symptoms or self-isolating.
- Find out more: how to choose the best removals company
Guidance for vulnerable people
The government says people who are vulnerable or shielding should balance their need to move home with the increased risks presented by COVID-19.
It says that vulnerable people consider their personal situation and, if necessary, take medical advice before committing to a move.
People who are self-isolating or showing coronavirus symptoms should not leave their home at all, including to undertake viewings or move home.
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