Estate agents reopen their branches

The government has announced that estate agents and other property professionals, such as removals companies and house surveyors, can open their doors and offer viewings from Wednesday, 13 May.

Stay-at-home measures were introduced in March. 450,000 people were in the progress to move when the government imposed strict lockdown measures on businesses, including estate agents, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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.

From Wednesday, estate agents can reopen their branches if they are able to adhere to the government’s COVID-19 workplace safety rules.

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.

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. If possible, the current occupants should vacate the property during viewings to minimise contact with other households.

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.

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.

Conveyancers and property solicitors have been able to operate throughout the lockdown and will continue to do so now.

Surveyors are now allowed to undertake property surveys for home buyers if they follow 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.

Banks will continue offering ‘desktop’ valuations during lockdown to be able to process mortgage applications.

Removals companies are allowed to operate, given they adhere to social distancing rules. 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.

People who are self-isolating or showing coronavirus symptoms should not leave their home at all, including to undertake viewings or move home.

Moving house and viewing properties is not currently allowed in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

Image: I-Wei Huang / Adobe Stock

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About Susan Atkinson

Susan Atkinson covers UK property news.

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