In Brief

Coronavirus: government suspends housing market

Estate agents bracing themselves for crash as ministers ‘hit pause button’

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The government has frozen the housing market until the coronavirus lockdown is over, telling people to delay their home moves and not to allow new viewings.

In new guidance, the government said it was urging buyers and sellers to “adapt and be flexible” by agreeing new moving dates.

Lenders said they would extend mortgage offers for up to three months – allowing purchasers to move in at a later date. But The Sun reports that estate agents are “already bracing themselves for a crash as people avoid going to open houses, while sellers are reluctant to put homes on the market”.

A government spokesperson said: “Home buyers and renters should, as far as possible, delay moving home while emergency measures are in place to fight coronavirus.”

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The spokesperson added that “if moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons, people must follow advice on social distancing to minimise the spread of the virus”. Those with symptoms “should follow medical advice which will mean not moving house for the time being, if at all possible”.

The government said there was no need to pull out of transactions, adding that all parties should “prioritise agreeing amicable arrangements to change move dates for individuals in this group, or where someone in a chain is in this group”.

Jeremy Leaf, a London estate agent and former chair of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, told the Daily Mail the move would “put a lot of people’s lives on hold”, adding: “We just hope everyone presses the pause button rather than the stop button.”

However, Mike Scott, chief property analyst at estate agency Yopa, painted a more optimistic picture, telling the paper that the housing market was on an “upward trend” before the coronavirus and “should come bounding back once the crisis has passed”.

Renters have also been advised not to move by the government, which also banned any evictions for the next three months from Friday in England and Wales.

Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, said the courts will suspend all ongoing housing possession action for private and social tenants as well as homeowners facing action from mortgage holders. 

Jenrick added that neither cases currently in the system nor any about to go into it could progress to the stage where someone could be evicted.

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