Lawyers, developers and estate agents are working hard to keep the cogs turning as efficiently and safely as possible during the coronavirus lockdown.

We may all be following social distancing rules under the coronavirus lockdown but that does not mean your property search or home sale is completely on hold.

“There is a slight silver lining in that cloud that we are starting to see,” says Charlie Bryant, CEO of Zoopla. “Number one: people have kept their properties on the market.” The number of homes for sale is currently only one per cent lower today than on March 7.

“Having that stock will be really, really important to enable a bounce back once the market reopens. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s a green shoot, but it’s a seed in the ground.”

The number of new property sales agreed in the UK has fallen by 70% since the start of the coronavirus restrictions and the government’s guidelines to moving home.

But in the second week of lockdown there was a rise in people browsing properties.

When you’re stuck in a home you’ve outgrown, trying to work remotely while entertaining energetic children, that’s exactly the time you decide you really need to make plans to move.

“We have in fact seen a slight single digit increase week on week,” says Charlie. “And in the lettings space we have seen a 16 per cent week on week increase in lettings browsing levels.

“We tend to find with the lettings market that it is counter cyclical – when people feel it’s not the right time to buy, they turn to lettings.”

Unprecedented times – but temporary 

“The property market has not been forced to an immediate halt – we must remember Covid-19 is temporary and we will recover,” says Amy Hazelton, senior paralegal at law firm Blake Morgan.

“We may even see the market recover with first-time buyers who realise they need their own space after being locked down with family or flatmates.

“People have extra time to sit and trawl through agents’ sites and Zoopla. They may think about a move they have not had the time to consider before and some may even spend the time considering investment opportunities in the market.”

Should I keep my home on the market?

It’s really not such a bad time to be selling your home. With the majority of people stuck at home without much to do, many would-be house hunters are spending their time browsing for a new home online. So, if your home is already on the market there is no reason to withdraw it.

It’s also worth noting that the government has not banned property transactions from going through. Instead, it has said that if the property being bought is empty, the sale can continue as normal.

It is only if the property is currently occupied that it is encouraging people involved in the transaction to agree an alternative date on which to move.

Can estate agents take on new listings?

Their physical offices may be shut but estate agents are still open for business, albeit working remotely from home.

That said, it is difficult for them to take on new properties at the moment, as the current social distancing rules mean they cannot visit your home to take photographs and measurements for the listing details.

But don’t let that put you off if you’re thinking of selling your home.

Estate agents will still be able to talk to you by telephone to advise you on how much they may list your property for, subject to a physical viewing once restrictions are lifted, and to give you an idea of the market in your area.

They are also likely to be having similar conversations with potential buyers, so they may be able to line up some interested parties to view your home once the lockdown is over.

What is happening to mortgage rates?

The good news is that mortgage rates are falling in response to cheaper borrowing costs for banks and building societies themselves.

The average cost of a two-year fixed rate mortgage has fallen from 2.36% on 1 April to 2.13% now, while the cost of a five-year fixed rate deal has dropped from 2.66% to 2.37%.

Rates have fallen across the board, not just for borrowers with large equity stakes in their properties.

In fact, one of the biggest reductions is to the cost of an average five-year fixed rate loan for someone with just a 10% deposit, with this dropping by 0.61% since the beginning of the month.

Is it a good time to remortgage?

Although there are fewer mortgages than before the market was impacted by coronavirus, there continues to be a good choice for borrowers.

It is also expensive for homeowners to sit on their lender’s standard variable rate (SVR), the rate people typically revert to when their existing deal comes to an end.

The average interest rate charged on an SVR is currently 4.61%, compared with an average of 2.13% on a two-year fixed rate deal.

As a result, someone with a £200,000 mortgage would save nearly £3,240 a year by switching from their lender’s SVR to a new deal.

Is it a good time to remortgage?

Although there are fewer mortgages than before the market was impacted by coronavirus, there continues to be a good choice for borrowers.

It is also expensive for homeowners to sit on their lender’s standard variable rate (SVR), the rate people typically revert to when their existing deal comes to an end.

The average interest rate charged on an SVR is currently 4.61%, compared with an average of 2.13% on a two-year fixed rate deal.

As a result, someone with a £200,000 mortgage would save nearly £3,240 a year by switching from their lender’s SVR to a new deal.

Can people still view my home?

Assuming your home is already listed with an estate agency, they can continue to market it, but potential buyers won’t be able to view it in person until the current social distancing measures are lifted.

That said, people can still get an excellent sense of what your home is like through doing a virtual tour.

Some estate agents created these tours using 3D cameras to offer a high-definition, 360 degree walk-throughs of their clients’ properties before the lockdown came into force.

Andy Marshall, our chief commercial officer at Zoopla, says: “We have seen an upsurge of 215 per cent in virtual viewings of new-builds.

“While this is partly in response to coronavirus, we anticipate that online and virtual tours are quickly becoming the new normal. Online viewings afford convenience and flexibility.”

If your agent was not able to create one for you before social distancing was introduced, you could have a go at creating your own using the video on your mobile phone.

While it may not have the same professional touch as one created by an estate agent, it should still give potential buyers a good sense of how your home looks.

What if someone makes an offer?

If you receive an offer, there is nothing to stop you negotiating and accepting it.

But you do need to be mindful that the selling process is likely to take longer than usual.

The government has advised people to delay exchanging contracts while the current lockdown measures are in place.

Your buyer may also face delays in having a survey done on the property, as surveyors have been told not to carry out non-urgent work.

“Our move will happen – just at a later date”

Katie Beardsworth, 34, from Hull, is in the process of buying a new home in North Tyneside. Katie, who runs a classical music artist and project management company, was hoping to move in late April with her husband Robert and three-year-old son Sam. 

“I was looking forward to walks on the beach. It would have been more sustaining than the local park for the 100th time. But the benefit of not moving yet is living in a network of neighbours we’ve known for eight years.

“We’ve been on quite a journey buying. At first we wanted to stay in the area but move to a bigger house, but after quite a few houses fell through, we realised we wanted to totally change and live by a beach.

“We have everything ready for exchange, but we won’t move forward further until we know we can actually move in. We’re in a small chain – a first-time buyer is buying our three-bed terraced and the owner of the four-bed we’re buying will be moving to an empty house.

“We’ve had reassurances that everyone is happy to wait and the estate agents and solicitors, all working remotely, have been great throughout the process. Our survey was done the day before lockdown and we’d signed all the paperwork by post. I’ve had to answer a few queries by email rather than post, but that’s a welcome change. Our mortgage provider has been very helpful, calling to tell us when the mortgage offer will end and that there will be flexibility to extend if we need to.

“Now I’m quite philosophical – it will happen when it happens. But when lockdown first happened, I was upset. I’m a big planner and I’d been planning how I was going to organise new childcare and make new friends so moving home was less disruptive for my son Sam. Now that doesn’t feel as important – he’s already had a massive transition from nursery to being at home with me all day and I know we’ll all be fine.

“I’d say there’s no point in stressing about things that you can’t control.”

The lawyer’s view on the timeline of buying and selling during lockdown

Amy Hazelton is senior paralegal in the new homes team at law firm Blake Morgan

“Depending on the stage in your transaction, going ahead with a purchase may now mean you have to travel along a slightly different route than initially planned.

“In cases where contracts have not yet been exchanged, buyer and seller should try and agree delay clauses to allow for Covid-19 provisions to protect them both.

“You may encounter other blockers along the way towards exchange as a result of local authority closures, search provider delays and getting physical signature and witnessing of documents, due to social distancing and travel restriction guidelines.

“Some of these problems (especially with searches) can be overcome by specialist insurance. Others (such as signature) may need alternative arrangements to be agreed between the buyer and seller.

“If a buyer is between exchange and completion, all parties are still legally bound to proceed to avoid being in breach of contract and having financial penalties imposed.

“Where possible, completions should be delayed in accordance with the UK government guidelines to ‘stay indoors’ but, for some, completion may be unavoidable. Matters are likely to become more complicated where there is a chain and there are more parties to juggle.

“Lawyers throughout the country are working together in drafting solutions to help the market keep moving and this includes the certainty of exchanges taking place whilst keeping the flexibility to ensure no one is forced to complete against their will.

“Buyers and sellers should stay in regular contact with all parties involved.”

What if I want to buy a new home?

If you want to buy a new home, there are still plenty of things you can do to kick-start your search while in lockdown.

You can use the time to browse homes online that estate agents already have on their books, to give you a sense of what is out there, while many properties also have virtual tours you can take.

You can also do research on the areas you’re interested in. For example, our site offers a number of tools enabling you to check out the local area, even journey times if you’ll be commuting.

Check out mortgage lenders websites too, to get a sense of how much you may be able to borrow, giving you an idea of the price range for your new home.

Estate agents are still working, so even though you can’t visit them in their offices, it is still worth ringing them for a chat about the type of property you’re looking for, as they may have someone waiting to list as soon as the restrictions are listed.

If you do find a property that seems perfect, you can put in an offer for it, although as explained above, the conveyancing process is likely to be slower than usual.

What can I do to get my home ready to sell?

One of the key things to do when preparing your home for sale is to have a good tidy up.

Rooms that contain a lot of clutter generally look smaller and darker than ones that are tidy and have clear surfaces, and this can put off potential buyers.

So, spend some of your time while in lockdown going through each room, having a good clear-out and packing away some of the ornaments and personal effects on display.

Also think about whether there is any furniture you could remove from rooms and store in the loft or garage to help make the space look bigger or more appealing.

Can I carry out home improvements during lockdown?

Many DIY stores remain open, although some are asking customers to order what they need online and then pick up their purchases at the store while still complying with the two-metre social distancing guidelines.

As a result, there is nothing stopping you from cracking on with those small DIY jobs you may have been putting off for a while.

Touching up paintwork or regrouting tiles can have a big impact on the overall look of your home.

Bear in mind that you cannot employ professional decorators and builders in your home during lockdown when you are living there, so a it’s a great time to try your hand at DIY.

So-called kerb appeal is incredibly important when trying to sell your home, as the outside is the first thing potential buyers will see.

Under the current circumstances some potential buyers may drive by and have a look at your property before they are able to view the inside, and first impressions count.

As a result, put some effort into sprucing up the outside of your home. Whether this involves repainting the front door or tidying up the garden, it is likely to be time well spent.