And, bucking predictions that the market would be severely impacted by the pandemic and prices would fall, some agents and lenders say they are currently busier than ever, with inquiries up, prices strong, and offers and valuations being made and requested all the time.
Peter Seymour from The Mortgage Shop said it was like a ‘tap had been turned on overnight’ for the sector, with a decade of Januaries – when the market typically picks up after a quieter Christmas period – rolled into one.
However, he warned that decisions by some lenders to increase the level of deposit required on mortgages was limiting choice for some buyers, especially first-time buyers.
At the beginning of the lockdown the Fiscal Policy Panel, which advises the government on economic matters, forecast a 10% drop in property prices in 2020.
However, John Crespel of Crespel Properties said that prices currently remained strong and that such predictions had been overly pessimistic.
‘The reports of doom and gloom were a trifle exaggerated,’ he said. ‘I think what’s becoming evident is that having spent some time at home people now value their homes in a greater fashion and want to buy one that suits their life now. We have a lot of first-time buyers, which is brilliant to see, and they’re managing to find some homes – we’ve had a good selection and people are making offers, which is really positive. The market is just as good as it has been in January, February and March – dare I say even better.’
He added: ‘There’s a huge amount of positivity and confidence. There’s a lot of pent-up demand, and a lot of people want to move house this year.’
Associate negotiator at Thompson Estates Matt Glazebrook echoed the sentiment that initial estimates had been just that – estimates.
‘I think before lockdown happened there was a lot of uncertainty,’ said Mr Glazebrook. ‘No one really knew, and the figure of 10% that was used was a potential figure.
‘You don’t want to predict things with absolute certainty. There’s a good level of clients speaking to us and a strong amount of inbound inquiries and phone calls. Another thing we’ve found is that valuations are good. We’re getting a lot of valuations in and the way I see it is as long as people are putting their house on the market, and to a certain extent people are willing to buy, then the market will continue.’
Other agents are also reporting strong interest from buyers. In a recent post on Facebook Le Rossignol Estates said: ‘Wow, what a few weeks that was. Over £7 million of sales negotiated by Le Rossignol Estates since being permitted to open doors again to prospective buyers following lockdown. Really encouraging and great to see loads of posts from other estate agencies showcasing what they have got under offer for their clients too.’
Mr Seymour, managing director of The Mortgage Shop, said that while some lenders had reduced what they were offering, the market had not seen an unexpected crash. In fact, he said, he had also experienced a surge in activity once estate agents had opened back up after lockdown.
‘When the estate agents opened again, we found that the number of inquiries we received by email, Facebook or phone grew significantly,’ he said.
‘It was as though the tap was turned on overnight. What normally happens is at the beginning of each year people have become fed up of sitting in their houses over Christmas and want to buy for the first time or get something different, so in the first few weeks of January we’re always very busy – but this was like all our Januaries rolled into one for the last ten years. It’s extraordinary how busy we’ve been.’
Mr Seymour said: ‘The one lender offering 100% [mortgage] which was aimed at the first-time buyer market has pulled their product. Of the two lenders offering 95% mortgages, one has also pulled their product completely, so we are left with very little choice for first-time buyers. Of the other options available, one lender had dropped their maximum lending to 80% which is quite a lot. If all lenders did the same thing then the first-time buyer market would be destroyed, but I’m confident they will not do so. That particular lender is probably taking a greater level of influence from their UK counterparts.’