Searches for houses in the U.K. hit a record last week with the end of the third national lockdown in sight.

Property website Rightmove recorded its busiest ever day on Feb. 17 ahead of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that the government will lift restrictions to contain the virus.

Rightmove’s data suggest a revival in the housing market that started in the second half of 2020 may pick up momentum. In the wake of higher unemployment and work from home policies during the biggest economic slump in 300 years, people are seeking to gain more space and move away from big cities.

Residential property activity in the UK has been bolstered by a holiday on stamp duty charged on purchases of properties, which helped home buyers save up to 15,000 pounds ($21,200). The stamp duty is due to expire at the end of next month, but Sunak will reportedly prolong the exemption.

Rightmove also indicated a lack of housing supply that may help bolster prices. It found a 21% reduction on the number of new properties being listed from a year ago.

Inquiries about commercial properties also hit a new high. That suggests businesses are preparing to move into new spaces once there’s easing of measures that closed many shops and offices.

Rightmove itself restored its dividend and said the pandemic should have no lasting effect on estate agency branch numbers, with its membership total expected to hold steady this year. Revenue slid 29% to £205.7m in 2020 after the property portal cut advertising rates between April and September. Operating profit dropped 37% to £135.1m.

Of foreign property searches on Rightmove, Spain’s Denia, Costa del Sol and Tenerife proved to be most popular.

The UK government has detailed a four-step plan for England that aims to reopen schools from March 8, outdoor hospitality from mid-April and sports stadiums by mid-May. From June 21 all remaining businesses will resume operations and rules on social contact could be scrapped.

The market may get a further boost from next week’s budget, when Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to extend tax relief on purchases through July.

Image: Edwardian style terraced houses in London by I-Wei Huang / Adobe Stock

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About Patrick Clayton

Patrick Clayton writes reviews of the UK and global property markets.

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