England’s housing market is being restarted under plans set out by the Government, increasing hopes of much-needed boost to mortgage-related protection sales.
Estate agents can now open, viewings can be carried out and removal firms and conveyancers can restart operations, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said.
The changes must be carried out under social distancing and safety rules.
It is estimated there are 450,000 buyers and renters with plans on hold and sales of protection insurance – which is often bought alongside mortgages – have been hit.
The Housing Secretary said: “Our clear plan will enable people to move home safely, covering each aspect of the sales and letting process, from viewings to removals.
“This critical industry can now safely move forward, and those waiting patiently to move can now do so.”
However, the property markets in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland remain shut. Home viewings are not permitted under lockdown regulations and their land registries are either running a reduced service or are not registering transactions.
Alistair Elliott, chairman and senior partner at estate agents Knight Frank, told the BBC’s Today programme the measures were “a major first step”.
He said: “We believe the public will have confidence to re-engage with the housing market.”
Jonathan Hopper, chief executive of real estate consultants Garrington Property Finders, said: “Few things are more likely to make people want to move than being cooped up in the same four walls for weeks on end, and property portals have seen traffic increase by up to a fifth.”
Property website Zoopla has estimated that about 373,000 property sales had been put on hold during lockdown, with a total value of £82bn.
Agreed sales were running at a tenth of the normal level for the time of year and were at similar levels to the activity seen in late December, it said.
Zoopla, the housing market data provider, said this led to a 70% drop in buyer demand over the course of a few weeks. Meanwhile, rental demand is 42% down since the start of March.