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Housing market bottlenecks could worsen amid new lockdown, experts warn

Vicky Shaw, PA Personal Finance Correspondent
·3-min read

Home-movers hoping to beat a stamp duty deadline may need to brace themselves for delays as England’s new national lockdown piles more pressure on to the system, property professionals are warning.

People can still move home and undertake property viewings – but professionals said transactions are already under strain and the latest restrictions could make existing bottlenecks worse.

Buyers have been rushing to beat the stamp duty holiday deadline, which is due to end on March 31.

The “nil rate” stamp duty band has been temporarily raised to £500,000, saving some buyers thousands of pounds.

But those working in the home-moving industry have come under pressure under the weight of transactions – with the number of home-buyer mortgage approvals recently hitting a 13-year high. Calls have been made from within the industry for the stamp duty deadline to be extended.

Andrew Montlake, managing director of mortgage broker Coreco, said: “Though the property market remains technically open, there will now be considerably more logistical issues for the simple reason that a lot of people will be working from home.

“Lenders, valuers and conveyancers are already experiencing bottlenecks and delays given the sheer amount of applications going through and the administrative upheaval caused by the latest lockdown will only serve to accentuate them.”

Bank of England figures released on Monday showed that the number of mortgage approvals made to home-buyers was at a 13-year high in November 2020.

Around 105,000 home loans for house purchase got the go-ahead, up from 98,300 in October and marking the highest number since August 2007.

George Franks, co-founder of London-based estate agent Radstock Property, said: “Transactions are already under a lot of time pressure and the new lockdown will compound the issue, as people work from home or fall ill…

“Extending the deadline by at least another month to reflect the new national lockdown seems like the right thing to do in the current circumstances.”

Guidance for home-movers in England on the website says: “You can still move home. People outside your household or support bubble should not help with moving house unless absolutely necessary.

“Estate and letting agents and removals firms can continue to work. If you are looking to move, you can go to property viewings.

“Follow the national guidance on moving home safely, which includes advice on social distancing, letting fresh air in, and wearing a face covering.”

Tomer Aboody, director of property lender MT Finance, said: “With lawyers, valuers and agents all still working, this should limit any further delays to transactions.

“It is now down to the comfort level of sellers in terms of allowing potential buyers in to view their homes and buyers feeling comfortable attending viewings. Extra caution will be taken on all sides to allow viewings to proceed.”

Jeremy Leaf, a north London estate agent and a former residential chairman of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, said: “There are many people who have made legal commitments to buy, sell or rent, and need or have to move.

“This could be for health or financial reasons, a relationship breakdown or domestic violence – whatever the reason, these moves can’t be halted even in light of the pandemic.

“We will be returning to the protocols that we previously adopted and there will be a clear distinction between occupied and unoccupied properties.

“While the property market remains open for business, the new lockdown will have some impact on surveyors, removals firms et cetera, and, in the circumstances, it would be prudent for the Chancellor to reconsider the stamp duty deadline.

“Those who have moved heaven and earth to meet the deadline should not now be penalised if they miss it through no fault of their own.”