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How has COVID-19 affected the housing market?

The housing market in England is open again, with restrictions on valuing, viewing and moving house lifted as of 13 May 2020.

These activities had been suspended under the initial phase of lockdown, which did not allow individuals to invite visitors into their home. People were advised to delay moving home if they could.

But on 13 May, housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced that those restrictions would be lifted with immediate effect. "So long as they are not shielding or self-isolating, anyone can move, any time and for any reason," he said.

This meant estate agents, removal companies, surveyors, conveyancers and valuers could all go back to work, as long as their business could be conducted safely and within social distancing guidelines.

Meanwhile, restrictions on buying and selling have remained in place across the rest of the UK, with the Scottish housing market set to reopen from 18 June.

No announcements have been made so far about when Wales and Northern Ireland might loosen restrictions again.

Effects on house prices

The latest figures show that at the start of the year, house prices were beginning to rise slightly when compared with the same time in 2019.

However, it remains to be seen how the coronavirus lockdown and the freeze on the housing market will affect property prices.

The most recent data from the UK House Price Index, which covers up to March 2020, shows that the average house price in the UK is now £231,855 - a decrease of 0.2% on prices in February 2020, but an increase of 2.1% when compared with March 2019.

This doesn't give much of an indication as to the effects of the virus, as it covers transactions that would have been agreed before the lockdown came into effect.

House prices are affected by the state of the economy as a whole, and with the Bank of England warning we could be on track for the deepest recession on record, it looks likely that we'll see significant rises in unemployment and decreases in income.

That's almost certainly going to lead to some impact on house prices, but how much they fall by - and the percentage by which they recover - could depend on the shape that recession takes.

Pent-up demand?

It's been estimated that around 450,000 buyers and renters had their plans to move put on hold because of the lockdown.

With restrictions in England lifted, you might expect a rush of activity as those who had hoped to buy a house start to resume the process.

Property portal Zoopla reported that buyer demand surged by 88% following the reopening of the property market.

Sales increased slightly too, but did not bounce back at the same rate. Zoopla said it expected the spike in demand to be "short-lived" as the economic impacts of the virus affect buyer sentiment.

Many people's circumstances have changed drastically because of coronavirus, and some prospective buyers will no longer have the financial security they had earlier in the year.

That said, there may be changes to the value placed on different types of property, as buyers rethink their priorities.

A spare room for an office might now be in demand, as will a spacious garden - and for those working from home on a longer-term basis, a location that's close to their workplace may no longer be as important as it once was.

What to do if you're moving house

If you're selling a property in England, you can carry out all the usual steps of the sale, while following social distancing guidance.

The Government has advised using virtual viewings where possible, for example, before holding viewings in person.

Other guidelines include allowing access to handwashing facilities, avoiding touching surfaces and door handles, and vacating a property while the viewing is taking place.

You can read the full guidance here.

Get in touch to talk about your property.