To suggest that the housing market situation is something of a ‘moveable feast’ at present would be a slight understatement, given that in different regions of the UK we have everything from record activity to various degrees of lockdown.
The decisions by both the Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments to implement a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown in those countries clearly has certain implications for all housing market stakeholders, whether you’re a high-street estate agency forced back into closure, you’re an adviser attempting to support clients through to completion, or indeed if you’re a surveyor trying to ensure that the new rules are followed and you can complete your cases.
This of course is all complicated by the different measures and tiers that are at play across the devolved nations, and between different regions, however the positive part of this is that the housing market continues to move and we are able to have surveyors in properties, carrying out the work that we all want them to do.
We even have positive news in Wales, where initially we did think that ‘business as usual’ might not be on the agenda given the rules that are currently being enforced nationally.
There, we know that if a home move can’t be delayed until after this ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown, then everything can proceed, as long as we are following the guidance around social distancing/PPE, etc. That means that our surveyors have, on the whole, been able to continue working and our initial apprehension that this would mean large numbers of cases being stuck in stasis, hasn’t been the case.
There has also been some concern about the so-called ‘tier 3’ areas in England and whether we can continue to carry out our jobs here. Again, even at the highest level, our surveyors can work indoors and are able to continue carrying out physical inspections under all the tier restrictions, and we’ll continue to do this making sure that we follow the PPE and COVID-safe working practices.
That should be positive news for all those active in the housing market, especially as I think we all want to maintain the current levels of business and to make the most of this period, because (as we all know) guessing what might come around the corner is something of a fool’s errand.
Even saying this however, we have to think at how the decisions to introduce temporary lockdowns might translate eventually into further action. We’ve seen throughout this year that once one part of the UK makes a decision like this, it’s very difficult for others not to follow.
We are an island country but our internal borders can be crossed quite easily which, even with all the political will in the world, makes ‘stopping’ COVID-19 at a border impossible. There is a lot to be said for a consistent approach across all four nations, but we’ve not had that yet and it looks unlikely that will change soon. The politics of this current situation are likely to see to that.
So, with a lack of collective action, we may find that other parts of the country move in the same direction but at a slower pace. Will we have regional ‘circuit braker’ lockdowns in parts of England? The Government has said no but has also not ruled out a ‘national lockdown’ – when might that start, and importantly, when might it finish?
We have to weigh up the ongoing health and economic impact of waiting too long, but there’s also an argument to suggest we should see how those tiers/circuit breakers, etc, actually work. There appears to be some good news in terms of infection/hospital rates in those top tier 3 regions already, but can this be sustained further into Autumn and Winter?
From our perspective, we have to keep working within all the different guidelines but also be prepared and be adaptable to whatever the next stage of this virus throws at us. We have benefited from an excellent four/five months of activity and, in the great scheme of things, a two-week break may not be so incredibly damaging, especially when we can continue to operate as we have done in Wales.
However, two weeks can have a habit of moving into three/four weeks, maybe even months. Such a period of closure would be incredibly damaging. This is a tightrope of decision-making but it’s one that this Government and all devolved Governments have to get right. The consequences of getting it wrong are severe indeed.
Simon Jackson, Managing Director at SDL Surveying