Coronavirus: NI on the move as house hunting and flights return

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Templeton Robinson

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Estate agents and their clients will have a range of new rules to follow

House moving and more passenger flights are returning to Northern Ireland from Monday, as the easing of coronavirus restrictions continue.

Estate agents can now open and viewings can take place.

Passenger flights will resume at Belfast International Airport, with Easyjet restarting services to seven UK destinations as well as Portugal.

The property market had been paused for three months during the pandemic, leaving many people in limbo.

Under the lockdown restrictions, house moves were only allowed in very limited circumstances.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said there were “many people living in unsuitable accommodation” and for them, it would be a relief “to be able to move to more suitable housing”.

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No Easyjet passenger flights have flown out of Belfast International since lockdown began

Ms Hargey said there were families who had been living in temporary accommodation who could now be placed in social housing.

However, she said it did not represent a “return to normality”.

There is new guidance in place both for estate agents and those seeking to buy or sell a home.

For those looking at property, there will be more virtual viewings and appointment-only systems.

For estate agents, there will be strict infection control procedures before, during and after viewings.

‘Look but don’t touch’

Neil Templeton, of Templeton Robinson in Belfast, said staff had been busy preparing for reopening.

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Virtual viewings are expected to be much more common under the new guidelines

“As only one party can view a particular house at one time, it may take a little longer,” he said.

“It may be a case of ‘look, but don’t touch’ when it comes to physical viewings.”

He said the office space had also been adapted for social distancing, with screens and signage.

Samuel Dickey, estate agent and Northern Ireland spokesperson for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, said the changes would help release the “pent up demand” in the sector.

Realisations made during lockdown may drive increased activity, he added.

“Your house is your castle and you need to be comfortable in your living environment especially if you are working from home,” he said.

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Media captionWhat is the R number and what does it mean?

The R-number

The Department of Health has confirmed the R number of the virus in Northern Ireland remains at between 0.5 and 0.9.

R is the number of people each infected person, on average, passes the virus on to and it has been at the heart of Stormont’s decision making. The goal is to keep R under one.

On Sunday, the department also released the scientific data behind how they calculate the number and other estimates on how prevalent the infection currently is in Northern Ireland.

It says the number of people who are infected with coronavirus is currently between 300 and 2,000 – the department says it cannot be more specific because of the large numbers of people who are asymptomatic.

Less than 5% of the population have recovered from Covid-19 and have detectable antibodies, the department suggests, meaning the majority of the population remain susceptible to the virus.

That means “any subsequent waves of the epidemic have the potential to be significantly worse” than the current outbreak, according to the department’s update.

Belfast resident Martin Sheppard put his house on the market back in February.

He had hoped to have wrapped up the sale and moved into a new property in time to enjoy the summer.

“I’m looking forward to Monday, hopefully I’ll get a few viewings soon,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be comfortable with virtual viewings however, in the same sense I wouldn’t be comfortable with someone who was in viewing the house recording it.

“I’d prefer people came to view in person.”

Meanwhile, the easing of restrictions means passenger planes out of Belfast International will be back in the air from Monday.

Since the start of lockdown the airport has only been dealing with cargo flights.

Passengers will have to wear masks onboard planes and in the airport.

Since lockdown began, Northern Ireland has only been serviced by an Aer Lingus flight from Belfast City Airport to London Heathrow, and a Loganair flight between City of Derry Airport and London Stansted.

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