The number of people viewing properties online has bounced back to levels seen before the lockdown amid the “surprise” reopening of England’s housing market this week, according to a website.
Rightmove said home mover visits to its website had been hitting pre-lockdown daily levels.
On Wednesday, the day England’s housing market was taken out of the deep freeze where it had remained during lockdown, nearly 5.2 million visits were made to Rightmove.
This was a 4% increase on the same day a year earlier.
Meanwhile, Halifax has reported seeing mortgage applications spike by 36% in the past week compared with a week earlier.
Miles Shipside, director of Rightmove, said the industry had been “caught by surprise” this week at the easing of rules which allow people in England to now go on physical property viewings and make trips to estate agents.
Those involved in buying and selling will still have to follow strict Government guidelines to limit the spread of coronavirus generally.
Mr Shipside said: “The traditionally busy spring market was curtailed by lockdown, but we’re now seeing clear signs of returning momentum, with the existing desire to move now being supplemented by some people’s unhappiness with their lockdown home and surroundings.”
He added: “The industry has been caught by surprise, as we were all expecting the housing market to stay closed until at least June.”
Rightmove said, for the second month in a row, there are still too few properties coming to market to give an average asking price figure.
In England, only serious buyers should be viewing sellers’ homes, with Government guidance recommending online virtual viewings in the first instance.
Recent research from Savills has also suggested that house hunters are increasingly prioritising properties with space to work from home, and those in village locations.
Mr Shipside said: “It’s especially important for the recovery of transaction volumes that prospective buyers and existing and future sellers feel reassured enough to re-engage with their pent-up housing needs, but safety is the top priority for all and so it will take time.
“All parties will have to be innovative to work effectively while adhering to these guidelines. There are many benefits, including freeing sellers of the need to maintain a constant state of tidiness and letting them avoid the frustration of no-shows often associated with frequent physical viewings.
“High demand could lead to a boost in values for properties that offer inspiring home-working options. But on the other hand, the extra value for a property being close to a popular commuter route may diminish if working from home becomes the new norm.
“We already saw some early signs of people enquiring more about out-of-city areas so it will be interesting to see if this leads to a change in where people choose to buy now the market has been unlocked.”
Marc von Grundherr, director at Benham & Reeves in London, said: “The housing market underpins the broader economy and therefore agents are now tasked with being stewards of the recovery but, and this is important, they must also take their responsibilities seriously in terms of protecting customers and staff on valuations and viewings ensuring a social distance between all parties.”
Guy Gittins, managing director of London estate agents Chestertons, said: “This is great news for the many thousands of people who need to move home but, as the Government is keen to stress, this is not a return to normality and everyone has to adapt to the current situation.
“Physical viewings and valuations can now take place but video viewings will remain a major feature for some time to come and people are urged to make use of them in the earlier stages of their search and only physically view properties if they are genuinely interested and able to place an offer.”
Nick Leeming, chairman of Jackson-Stops, said there had been an immediate flurry of activity across its branch network.
He said: “We have a strong pipeline of pending sales which started to move within the first hours of trading. Our Exeter branch, for example, received four requests from buyers to view properties, all before 10:30am on the day the market reopened.
“Meanwhile, our Alderley Edge branch received two requests for valuations and three calls from buyers asking to view properties both above and below the £1 million price band before midday.
“One buyer asked if it was possible to immediately view a property in person on the day the market was unlocked, however we must remember that Rome was not built in a day.
“Our immediate priority is to put the health and safety of our clients, their families and our teams first and we are ensuring that our branches are fully aware of the Government’s latest guidelines. It is only then that our branches will be arranging physical viewings, valuations and meetings, which means that virtual video tours continue to be an important tool for selling or letting a property.”
Tom Martin, mortgages director at Halifax, said: “From speaking to customers directly every day, we are seeing the demand to get moving as soon as possible.
“However, we would suggest taking time to do the research and seek expert advice before doing so.”