Coronavirus: Welsh ‘frustration’ as England’s property market restarts

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The property market in Wales has been “paused” since lockdown started in March

House buyers and sellers in Wales may “feel frustrated” the property market in England has restarted amid the coronavirus crisis, but not in Wales.

Estate agents claim it is damaging to the Welsh economy that English sales can now progress due to updated lockdown regulations but sales in Wales remain “on pause”.

They want a “cohesive UK message”.

The Welsh Government said people must stay at home and can move house only where it “cannot be postponed”.

But estate agents want to be able to reopen if they observe social distancing rules.

‘It would be a disaster if we lost this property’

When Dean Bridle and his family found the “perfect” property in February, they imagined they would be living in their new home in Baglan, Port Talbot, by now.

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Dean Bridle

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Dean Bridle, his partner and three children are hoping to move house

But the 34-year-old father-of-three wants “fairness” and is calling for the Welsh Government to reconsider its house removal lockdown policy.

“Having learnt that restrictions are being relaxed in England leaves myself and many others in Wales frustrated we’re playing to different rules,” he said.

“It doesn’t seem like there’s any difference between moving homes if you’re in London, Birmingham, Manchester – or in Cardiff, Swansea or Baglan.

“It doesn’t seem fair and I think the Welsh Government need to rethink the blanket policy of lockdown on everything and look to get some advice in the housing sector to say ‘yes, it’s OK to make the baby steps in the housing sector that they are doing in England’.”

Dean’s was one of an estimated 400,000 property transactions that stalled in the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to property website Zoopla.

Research suggests the market has seen a 60% drop in demand since early March – and as much as 80% in Cardiff.

‘Creative approach to viewings needed’

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Hugh James

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Conveyancing lawyers like Helen Barry are calling for a ‘creative’ approach to house viewings

Lawyers have called for the Welsh Government to consider “creative” ways for the property market rules to be modified while still adhering to social distancing rules.

“There are things that could be done, like allowing appropriate viewings under certain circumstances,” said Helen Barry, head of residential property at Hugh James.

“Estate agents could, for example, let people into empty homes, while remaining at an appropriate distance.

“The Welsh Government might also look into allowing surveyors into properties or facilitating removals.

“Its not the ideal situation but unfortunately there are going to have to be creative ways of thinking to make things smoother for people.”

‘Why can’t I do a socially-distant house viewing?’

Agents have been able to offer buyers virtual viewings in Wales while conveyancing solicitors carry out remote valuations – often called desktop valuations.

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Nathan Reeks says 40% of his sales transactions are “cross-border” between Wales and England

“But after that, the transaction is essentially paused and we’ve had to wait until market in Wales reopens,” said estate agent Nathan Reeks, who deals with “cross border” English and Welsh transactions from his business in Caldicot, Monmouthshire.

Buyers and renters had previously been urged to delay moving in England while the “stay at home” advice was in place – a message that still operates in Wales.

“I think estate agents struggle to see how I can stand in my local supermarket with hundreds of people, play golf or go to the garden centre,” added Mr Reeks.

“But think ‘why can’t I do a socially-distant house viewing’, particularly in an empty house.

“More than 40% of our 47 current sales transactions have either a buyer or seller from either side of the border. I’ve been inundated with calls from clients in England today hoping to restart their process and they are struggling to understand why its one rule for Wales and one for England.

“What I fear is that people wanting to move to Wales and strengthen our local economy will just remain in England – or people from Wales buying properties England will be kicked out of the process in favour of people buying from England.

“So there is a danger that people from Wales may feel penalised.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s relaxation of some lockdown rules in England, such as travelling for as far people like in order to exercise, caused confusion as it did not apply in Wales.

The difference in property market strategies is another example with governments taking different approaches.

“What is difficult for both myself and clients in Wales and England and the general population is why isn’t there a cohesive message from all governments,” says Peter Moon, an estate agent from Chepstow who also markets properties on both sides of the border.

“In such important times, it would make life a lot clearer. A lot of people are very stressed at the moment and this is just adding to the confusion and worry.”

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People can move house in Wales only if it “cannot be postponed”

The Welsh Government does not have specific rules for the housing market but said most practices estate agents need to undertake are banned by its Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Act.

‘If people can postpone their moving date, they should’

Economy minister Ken Skates said much of the legal sector was operating and “exchanges can take place” but social distancing was difficult “to view properties where space within flats or houses is confined”.

“It stands to reason that if you cannot abide by social distancing you should not be carrying out viewings,” he told the Welsh Government’s daily briefing.

The Welsh Government said “stay-at-home regulations continue to be in force” at least until the next review date on 28 May.

“We continue to ask people to stay at home to protect themselves and others from coronavirus,” added a spokesman.

!If people can postpone their moving date, they should do so.”

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