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8 May 2020

Revealed: how lockdown has changed house buyers' property priorities

Post-lockdown movers will look outside cities for homes with gardens

Prospective home buyers are likely to pick up where they left off once the coronavirus lockdown eases, but many will look outside cities in search of homes with more outdoor space.

New surveys from Rightmove and Savills show how buyer priorities have changed during the lockdown.

Here, we explain the key features house hunters will search for, and offer advice on house prices, mortgages and when you'll be able to move home again.

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Are people searching for homes?

The property market is well and truly on hold, but there are signs buyers and sellers are looking ahead to the end of the lockdown.

Rightmove says visits increased by 20% last week compared to the first week of lockdown, and the rise is set to continue once the government's stay-at-home measures are eased.

The portal's survey of 784 home movers found that 94% plan to press ahead with their plans after the lockdown, while just 6% will put their search on hold.

Buyers looking to move out of the city

With the lockdown having forced people to spend a considerable amount of time in their homes, house hunters have been thinking carefully about what they're really looking for in a new property.

For many city dwellers, that means looking further afield for a higher quality of life.

Rightmove's data shows a significant year-on-year increase in the percentage of searchers looking at homes outside their city of residence.

London has seen the biggest increase, with 52% of property hunters looking outside the capital compared with 42% this time last year. But overall, Edinburgh now has the highest proportion of residents - 60% - looking to move elsewhere.

Rightmove says that while it's not unusual for buyers to shop around for more affordable homes outside their city, there's been a 'notable shift' in consumer behaviour during the lockdown.

Miles Shipside of Rightmove says: 'Some people may already be thinking of moving further out from their place of work if they can work from home a few days a week, which opens up a number of new areas they had never considered before.'

House hunters look for bigger homes

A new survey by the estate agency Savills asked prospective buyers if their priorities have changed since before the lockdown, and its findings echoed those of Rightmove.

Unsurprisingly, 39% of under-50s said they'll now be more inclined to look for a bigger home, while 17% of respondents said they had widened their property search area.

Most notably, 71% of under-40s said gardens and outdoor space had become more important. The other big priorities for many were wireless internet (48%) and a separate space to work from home (44%).

At the other end of the property ladder, 20% of homeowners aged over 50 said they were now more inclined to downsize to a smaller property than they were before the lockdown.

When will I be allowed to move home?

The government's current guidance states people should put their moves on hold, but estate agents are petitioning to be among the first retailers to open their doors after the lockdown.

Earlier this week, the national chain Countrywide wrote to the housing secretary to make the case for agencies being among the 'first wave' of businesses to reopen while operating social distancing measures.

In the meantime, agents are looking to video viewings to keep the market moving, and some have reported successes with 'live' video tours where buyers can ask questions about the property as they would in a normal viewing.

The Property Ombudsman has advised that prospective buyers should only agree deals subject to an in-person viewing after the lockdown ends.

Has the value of my house fallen?

There are plenty of headlines around about possible house price drops due to the coronavirus outbreak, but in truth it is too early to tell what the impact will be on values.

The Land Registry's house price index operates with a two-month delay, meaning we won't know the full impact of the lockdown for a while yet - and low transaction numbers in the short term could bring volatile results.

If you're looking to sell, you can take some solace in the fact the property market is very robust, and although some estate agents have predicted prices falling, forecasts have generally been of single-digit drops rather than a crash.

Will I be able to get a mortgage?

If you're assessing your mortgage options, there's good news and bad news.

First, the good. Last month, we reported that the number of mortgage deals had fallen by nearly 50% but since then, the number of available deals has risen from 2,750 to 3,082.

Many of the best rates are still around, and banks have begun offering 'desktop' mortgage valuations.

On the downside, you might struggle to get the best mortgage deal if you've been furloughed. This is because many lenders will only take the furloughed income into account, rather than your usual salary, and others won't accept this income at all.

If this applies to you, you might be better waiting until you're back at work before applying, or taking advice on your options from a mortgage broker.

The latest on coronavirus

Experts from across Which? have been compiling the advice you need to stay safe and to make sure you're not left out of pocket.

You can keep up to date on our latest coverage in our coronavirus news and advice section.