Today is the first Monday back for many local estate agents after an unprecedented seven-week lockdown freeze.
Last Tuesday, the government eased restrictions on the housing market in England, allowing estate agents to reopen and giving permission for viewings to be carried out on properties.
The property markets in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland remain shut, but the market is moving again in Altrincham – which only two months ago was rated the best place to live in the UK by the Sunday Times.
There have been predictions that, nationally, house prices could dip once the inevitable post-Covid recession hits.
But we wanted to find out how it had been for estate agents in Altrincham on the ground since emerging from lockdown.
So we asked three of Altrincham’s best-known agents – Rob Macklin, from Ian Macklin & Co, Peter Waterson from Watersons and Adrian Hibbert from Hibbert Homes, for their thoughts.
How has lockdown been for you and how has business been since the market officially reopened last Wednesday?
ROB MACKLIN, IAN MACKLIN & CO: It’s been a challenging and very strange time. We’ve been trying to work remotely but made the decision not to do any viewings. But from literally nine o’clock on Wednesday morning, the phones were going bananas. It was non-stop. The viewings diary is full and there are lots of properties coming on, and there should be more coming to the market. This area is always sought after and the signs are positive, and hopefully it’s not just a pent-up demand that tails off.
PETER WATERSON, WATERSONS: We went into lockdown with 115 sales on the go, and spent the whole of the eight weeks keeping them together. We managed to get approximately 15% of those sales over the finish line, and approximately 10% of those sales decided not to buy or sell. The rest were in a holding pattern but hung on in there. So we’ve done fewer completions than normal but we’re pleased – we now have about 85 sales still on the go which is really good, and we’re working hard to keep to them going.
During the whole of lockdown we’ve had ongoing enquiries for viewings, but just not been able to act on then. There’s been a big uptake on viewings since the reopening, and with the backlog, there are now about 200 viewings that we are booking in.
ADRIAN HIBBERT, HIBBERT HOMES: It has been a bit weird, although we did actually put a house on the market during lockdown, although that was against my guidance. It’s been frustrating more than anything else. Since Tuesday last week, we’ve been going through the backlog. We started viewings on Friday and Saturday, and started properly in the office today. The positive thing is that I’ve not been worried about how it was going to react.
We’ve been absolutely inundated with activity. We’ve put on five properties for sale since Friday, and four lettings today. The buyers are there, the tenants are there. People always want to do stuff when they’re told they can’t do it!
Have you had any examples yet of people trying to knock prices down?
ROB MACKLIN: We’ve had two sales where people have renegotiated, but they’re in the minority. The majority of sales went on hold with the lockdown and have just picked up now. People are just taking the situation for what it is.
PETER WATERSON: The majority of sales have stuck with the price. There have been isolated instances where peope haven’t and have had to renegotiate. With the bookings now, we won’t know until after the viewings, but it would be naive to imagine that some people won’t want to do deals.
ADRIAN HIBBERT: We’ve had a couple of people use it as an excuse to chip away at the price, but it shouldn’t have an impact. We’re fortunate in the area that the demand is so high. It might impact some people for affordabilty but there will be someone else waiting. We’ve had a lot of tenants turn around and say they can’t afford the rent anymore and want a reduction, but the landlord knows they will get that rent from someone else.
What do you expect to happen to house prices in Altrincham over the coming weeks and months?
ROB MACKLIN: There was the Daily Mail article (saying that buyers were demanding big discounts) and there probably will be some of that in certain pockets of the country. But other pockets will be more stable, and the Altrincham area tends to hold very well. Prices certainly won’t come down around here, but they may plateau. But with everything that Altrincham has to offer, people will still want to live here.
PETER WATERSON: Prices are impacted by supply and demand. If there are too many houses and not enough buyers, then prices go down. As of last Wednesday, the number of available houses is 22% lower than when we went into lockdown. There are normally 1,000 houses for sale in WA14 and WA15, but as of last Wednesday there were 780. That’s the lowest number in a very long time. We’re now monitoring to see how many houses are coming on and what the real balance between supply and demand will be. We’re expecting all those who need to buy and sell will, and those who are thinking about it will watch and wait for a period of time.
ADRIAN HIBBERT: I was 50/50 about it until they made the announcement, but since it reopened I’m not expecting any reduction in prices at all. The only properties that may experience a drop are those when people need to sell. I can’t see a general fall in value.
What would your advice be to buyers or sellers who are perhaps unsure about whether now is a good time to move?
ROB MACKLIN: If you’re looking at buying, there should be more coming to the market. From a seller’s point of view, the activity level is good.
PETER WATERSON: If you need to move then it’s the right time, so get on with it.
ADRIAN HIBBERT: No time like the present. Frustratingly, spring is the best time of year to move house. From a seller’s point of view, make the most of it while the weather’s nice. What are they waiting for? Mortgage rates are cheap, and the base rate is not going to get any lower.
We’re hoping supply is going to increase significiantly over the next month or so, so signs are positive. Rightmove said that viewings on its website were up 45% last Wednesday compared to the day before.
What extra safety precautions are you brought in since coming out of lockdown?
ROB MACKLIN: Although we have been instructed to re-open earlier than we anticipate and with little/no notice we’ve managed to put everything in place we can. We have provided gloves, masks, visors (if staff want them!) and hand sanitizer dispensers in each location. Viewings are restricted to one person entering a property at a time and things are wiped down after we leave. We are undertaking social distancing in the offices as much as we can although this is slightly more difficult. We have made sure vendors are comfortable taking viewings and there is zero pressure to do so. Our staff and clients’ safety is the most important thing in all of this, so we have made every effort to try and get back to business, but in a safe manner.
PETER WATERSON: The main thing is regarding viewings on properties. We have to check people’s health first, and ask if anyone is unwell. We’re trying to encourage fewer viewings by filtering people more than usual. We’re also limiting time in a house to 15 minutes, and a maximum of two people at the same time from the same family, but no children. We’re also requesting that people where gloves and masks and not to touch doors.
ADRIAN HIBBERT: The office is open but not to the public, and is by appointment only. Gloves and masks must be worn by anyone on appointments, and they’re limited to two viewers per appointment so that people don’t turn up en masse. We’re also trying to restrict children and the number of people walking into houses, and we’re encouraging more virtual viewings.