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House Viewings and Valuations Resume as Lockdown Eases

By Isabel Agudo (Junior Associate) and Adam Paterson (Senior Associate)

Following the recent enforced hiatus in the property market, the government has amended The Health Protection Regulations (Coronavirus) 2020, allowing potential buyers and renters to once again visit estate or letting agents, view residential properties and move homes. Continued activity remains subject to social distancing rules as surveyors, valuers and conveyancers return to work but the message is clear – the English property market is open for business.
 
In April 2020, property website Zoopla estimated that 373,000 property sales were put on hold during lockdown. When the market re-opened, Carter Jonas claims that telephone inquiries skyrocketed and email inquiries more than doubled compared to the previous week. The most recent Halifax house price index indicates that whilst house prices in June 2020 fell for a fourth straight month, mortgage enquiries increased by 100%.  
 
Projections for House Prices and Consumer Behaviours 
 
National estate agency Savills expects house prices to dip for the remainder of the year. However, they anticipate that there will be an overall increase across the UK by 2024 thanks to better mortgage affordability and pent-up demand. Transactions should hopefully return to normal levels in view of the sector’s past resilience. The scale of the impact very much depends on wider economic developments. 
 
Trends since lockdown include an appetite to move to the countryside, and in the case of city-dwellers, the avoidance of public transport. As some employees continue to work from home, properties with a garden or some form of outside space are understandably becoming more desirable.  
 
Property Valuations and Virtual Tours 
 
As sellers try to market their homes again, virtual tours of a property and its surroundings have become prevalent, making it possible to explore rooms, balconies and terraces remotely. Physical viewings are then arranged once a prospective purchaser confirms interest. As part of protocol they are asked to sign a health declaration and may undergo a temperature check. 
 
With regard to valuations, working out the current value of a home in the UK is a complicated process. One aspect of the process looks at what similar homes were sold for recently, which can be problematic in light of the few sales made during lockdown. Market prices and valuations are not always the same because valuations are based on a combination of market data and expert opinion. Detailed inspections and measurements are normally conducted by expert valuers governed by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, who adhere to strict professional guidelines whether on-site or off-site. It may be that surveyors err firmly on the side of caution in the face of uncertainty and values may be considerably lower than expected. 
 
Property in Divorce and Financial Remedy Proceedings 
 
Despite the rejuvenation of the past weeks, if you are going through a divorce it is important to be aware of the implications of COVID-19 on asset valuations. 

Parties to a divorce can be reassured that the sale of their former matrimonial home or any other property is not as impossible as it seemed a few months ago. In the interim, payment of mortgage and other bills will need to be carefully thought out, particularly with employees furloughed and small businesses suffering from the overall economic pressures facing the country. 
 
Where expert property valuations have already been obtained within proceedings, they may need to be revisited and updated in case they are no longer accurate. Where a valuation is about to occur, an expert report is likely to reflect on the effects of COVID-19 and some experts may opine that they are not able to accurately assess the current market. Hopefully, all that is to change in the relatively short term.  
 
Compliance with Court Orders 
 
The recent slow-down in the property market will have caused difficulties in implementing final orders. The parties may have based plans around sale of property and those sales may have been delayed or not have yielded as much capital as expected. Parties will need to be both realistic and innovative as to how they solve these problems. Hopefully, the recent changes in guidance will alleviate these problems and the situation will continue to improve. 
 
At Schneider Financial Solutions we work closely with solicitors to ensure that we continue to be able to assist during these unusual times and as we take steps back toward normality.  
 
If you have been affected by the above and have appointed a divorce solicitor, or if you have any questions about this article, please contact info@schneiderfs.comDon’t forget to follow our LinkedIn page for more information related to matrimonial lending: https://www.linkedin.com/company/schneider-financial-solutions/