Buying a house in a pandemic

There’s no doubt about the fact almost every aspect of life was altered when COVID swept across the UK, from workplaces to bus drivers no longer having passengers, everything we thought was normal was turned on its head.

Buying a house is the biggest investment and commitment most people will make in a lifetime, and that didn’t change last year. The demand increased as people were confined to their homes and realised it’s not longer what they wanted. They wanted gardens, room for an office, a place outside the city. But how did this process adapt and change due to the restrictions and of those changes, what will we see brought into the future? We asked two of our Account Managers who bought homes in the last year to tell us about their experience.

LD: When I started my journey I hadn’t intended to buy a new house, however my decision to buy new build was very much driven by the changes to the property market brought on by the pandemic and the challenges my partner and I faced when trying to view properties on the second-hand market. Challenges that ended up completely changing the direction of our home buying journey.

With local estate agents only permitting people in an advanced position (those who had sold their property / did not have a property to sell and who had a mortgage in place) to view properties, my partner and I knew we were going to struggle as we each had a property to sell. Thanks to my job I know a fair bit about the property market and the benefits of buying a new build home, however due to the lack of new build developments in my area I didn’t really consider it as a serious option. Despite this my partner and I decided to look at the only new build development in our area and luckily found our ideal home.

Going down the new build route has, so far, been very straightforward and the right decision for us. Our house was built so we were able to see inside it rather than relying on photos and floor plans. The internal fit out is taking longer due to restrictions limiting the number of tradesmen able to work in the property at the same time, but that is perfectly understandable. In the three months since we reserved there, surprisingly, have not been many properties come on the second-hand market that met our criteria. We have part exchanged my house, so we are safe in the knowledge that we have somewhere to live until our new home is ready and thanks to the estate agents’ restricted viewing policy, we know that only genuine buyers are being permitted to view my partner’s flat. I feel our journey would not have been so easy had we gone down the second-hand market route.

The only real COVID-related challenge we faced was not being able to view properties on the second-hand market at the start of our journey, however I fully expect that viewings will be opened up to everyone again once restrictions are fully lifted. We noticed that all the second-hand properties we looked at had video tours available to view, whereas pre-COVID this wasn’t really the case. This is one thing that I feel will continue long term as it’s a fantastic way to really showcase a house and let interested parties really experience a property prior to physically viewing it. While pictures and floor plans are great, I think potential buyers will expect more rich content going forward.

PH: The process of buying a house during the pandemic has been challenging on various occasions. One of the obstacles we experienced was the appointment system whereby appointments were made in order to limit the number of people inside the marketing suites and to give clients sufficient time with the Sales Team. We found that whilst all the developers had this same system, some were more forthcoming than others with basic information (eg number of plots available, starting prices, estimated completion dates etc). This, especially in our case, made a huge difference as the first developer we visited couldn’t see us as we didn’t have an appointment, but the second (and the one we went with) were really helpful despite not making an appointment. They gave us all the information we needed initially to start the process.

One positive we took from the pandemic was the process of dealing with the solicitors. Due to COVID we were able to sign all the legal documents digitally which not only sped up the process but meant we did not have to visit the solicitors’ office at all. I hope this stays the same after COVID.

Another change that affected us during COVID was having to look for everything online. For example, we had to spend hours online trying to find flooring, furniture, worktops, tiles etc. In normal circumstances we would have been able visit showrooms and go to shops, but this traditional way of looking and shopping disappeared.

Due to social distancing and national lockdowns people and businesses have been forced to adjust and we can see this through the surge in digital consumption. Having a digital platform has been essential for all fields, including the property industry to meet the market needs.

Moving house, which is stressful under normal circumstances, was made more difficult during the pandemic as we didn’t have all the help we would have had without COVID. However, once we were settled in, we found that working from home enabled us to accommodate the many tradesmen/work visits needed in the first few weeks (and months!) of living in a new home. This was a big positive coming from the pandemic when moving house, because otherwise we might not have had the flexibility to be available for these visits, especially in such a short time frame!

And despite all the difficulties we have encountered during this process, the worst part was not being able to have friends and family visit us at home!

There have been positives and negatives to buying a house during a pandemic, some elements were eased and some made more difficult. It will be interesting to watch this space over the coming months to see if developers, estate agents and lawyers take learnings from this last year and implement new protocols and systems for good. Much of the commentary around post-COVID commerce focuses on how consumer habits will change; which new media preferences will stick. Of equal interest and potentially greater importance will be the extent to which brands retain the various measures they were forced to take by the pandemic. Whether that’s perspex screens in supermarkets or rich content on estate agent listings, there’s the potential for the consumer to benefit here over the long term.