For home buyers, sellers, and estate agents, when the lockdown and socially distancing measures were first announced in the UK, the housing market was abruptly put on hold, leaving approximately 82 billion pounds worth of transactions in limbo. Now, several weeks later, with restrictions having been eased slightly, changes have been made to the rules surrounding moving house during the lockdown, in an attempt to reignite the struggling housing market and to get property transactions on the move once more. But can you really get moving home safely during covid-19? Here’s what we know.
Easing lockdown restrictions
On the 13th of May, the English government’s message changed from ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’, to ‘stay alert, control the virus, save lives’, which marked the beginning of the government’s wider plan to begin easing lockdown restrictions. When the guidance was first announced by Prime Minister Borris Johnson on the 11th of May in his speech to the nation, it was heavily criticized for being confusing and unclear, but in the days that followed more details were released to help clear up the uncertainties. Within the new guidance, information was given about which businesses could begin to return to work, how much exercise people could now get a day, what was now acceptable when maintaining social distancing and how the government planned to get some children back to school. For the housing market, the critical news that they were looking for was embedded within the new socially distancing guidelines, which now put activities relating to the buying, selling or letting of a property within the ‘reasonable excuse’ category, which means that they are no longer prohibited so long as socially distancing guidelines are still followed.
What can buyers, sellers and letters now do under the new guidance?
So long as the 2m social distancing rules are followed, home buyers, sellers, letters and estate agents are now able to return to some sense of business as normal.
- People can now visit estate agents, letting agents, show homes or new build development sites to look for a property.
- People are also able to attend property viewings if they are looking to buy or rent (only if the household in which they are entering is now shielding or in isolation).
- Landlords and property agents are now able to enter properties to prepare them for a new tenant or sale.
- People are able to move house and complete their sales.
- Letting agents are able to visit properties to conduct any other activities that are required for the completion of a sale.
Moving house safely during COVID-19
Although the easing of property restrictions has undoubtedly made it easier for people stuck in the middle of moving home during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to realise that we are still a long way off from experiencing a complete return to normality and a range of new measures must still be followed to help keep all parties safe during the moving process.
House viewing during covid-19
Even during the height of lockdown, virtual house viewings remained an option for home-buyers, but understandably many people were holding back on making offers until they could physically view the property. Wherever possible, letting agents and estate agents are still urged to encourage virtual viewings, however, now under the new guidance, if an interested party is serious about making an offer then they are now permitted to view the property in person.
Correct house-viewing protocol
To keep potential buyers, accompanying estate agents and the current owner’s safe, the government has issued further advice.
- Wherever possible it is advised that the seller should open all windows and doors in the property to allow for ventilation.
- Potential buyers are to be given access to handwashing facilities but are encouraged not to touch any items or surfaces.
- If they can, sellers should not remain at home during the viewing and should return to their property once the agent and potential buyers have left.
- Social distancing rules should be maintained at all times.
House surveys are also now permitted but are to be undertaken using the same guidance provided for house-viewing.
Moving out and in during COVID-19
So, moving home safely during covid-19…. With the housing market re-opening, tenants and homeowners are understandably also beginning to move out of and into properties, requiring removal services. At present, it appears that there aren’t any strict guidelines for vacating or moving into a property but most reputable removals companies have taken it upon themselves to put their own measures in place to keep their employees and their customers safe.
What can you expect from your removals company during COVID-19?
The actions taken by each removals company may differ slightly during the pandemic, but in general, should follow a safe course of action. Understandably some businesses have chosen not to operate at this time and this means that it is more important than ever to contact your removals team early. An example of a good COVID-19 safe moving plan may include the following.
Prior to providing a quote, many removals companies need to see the size and quantity of items that you wish to take. This initial consultation is now occurring more commonly via video chat, and during the consultation, respectful movers may also ask questions about the health of the house occupants. If the consultation cannot be held via video chat then movers and homeowners will need to maintain social distancing protocols while an in=person assessment takes place and following similar guidance to that for house viewings, all windows and doors should be open and access to handwashing facilities granted.
To avoid unnecessary touchpoints, the government has advised that households try to pack as many of their belongings themselves and that they should clean them with a standard domestic cleaner especially if they may need to be handled by others. If it is not possible for you to pack your own belongings or there are items that you cannot pack, then these should be discussed with your removals company in advance.
On moving day
The government has advised homeowners to follow similar practices to those for house viewings, I.E to open all windows and doors to ventilate the property. To protect themselves and their clients most removals companies are also operating using some degree of personal protective equipment (PPE). At a minimum, this should include a mask and gloves but may also include a visor and water-resistant apron. Removal people should also be given access to handwashing facilities should they need them and to reduce the likelihood of homeowners and removals people coming into direct contact and breaking social distancing regulations, some companies may politely ask for homeowners to leave the property or to vacate to another room. The government has also advised that no refreshments should be given or accepted on the day.
At the other end of the removal process, removals companies will likely ask you to confirm where you would like your furniture or boxes placed within your new house layout and will do this without you needing to be present in the room. The paperwork for the job will then be left in a secure location and if anything needs to be signed then it is advised that this is done using your own pen.
Cleaning your new property
To make your new house into a safe home during the pandemic, then it is wise to give it a thorough clean to disinfect any surfaces that may be contaminated with the virus. This should include cleaning all the door handles, cupboard handles, kitchen counters and bannisters but you may also want to include the floors, windows and other surfaces. One thing that many homeowners forget to clean is their key. Keys pass through many hands and as a result, are a known harbinger of germs. When you are picking up your new keys be sure to disinfect them with hand sanitizer or spray and to wash your hands. Although no one should be moving home if they have confirmed symptoms of COVID-19, it’s better to be safe than sorry given the current crisis. When unpacking your belongings, it may also be wise to re-disinfect all of your items, especially if they have been handled by the removal agency and be sure to dispose of boxes that have been handled safely.
When not to move
People who are vulnerable or who are shielding must weigh up the risk of moving house during the pandemic, and where possible have been advised to postpone their move until it is safer for them to do so. People who are isolating or who have symptoms of the coronavirus should categorically not move, which includes attending any viewings, having buyers view their property or meeting with estate agents. If your move is contracted and scheduled and you are displaying symptoms of the virus or are isolating, then you must delay your move to a date where all members of your household have come to the end of their isolation period.
So there you have it. Things may not yet be the same as they were pre-COVID-19, but they have definitely progressed, which is good news for the economy and for everyone who has had their move put on hold due to the virus. Would you move during the pandemic?