The first week of September was undoubtedly a pivotal one for the entire country when it comes to how we continue to fight COVID-19 and the impact it might have on all business sectors, not least the housing and mortgage market.
For many schoolchildren it marked their first return to a school environment for six months and was also deemed to be the start of a ‘return to offices’ for their parents and all other manner of workers.
Whether the latter is truly going to happen or not, is something of a moot point. If our business is indicative of others across the country, then I suspect they’ll also be dealing with a limited number of employees returning to the office, while most will continue to work remotely as they have done since lockdown was introduced.
However much you might want to try and divorce what you do from what is happening with COVID-19, I’d suggest it is almost impossible to do so. Indeed, with no vaccine likely – certainly in the short-term – it would be pretty reckless to try and continue without keeping a full handle on just what the virus could do, and what it might mean for activity levels and your business income.
From a housing market perspective, there’s no doubting that we are seeing some truly positive results at present. We are part of a business which is property-focused through and through, and know full well how impressive the numbers have been recently.
At the start of September, for example, we had three days of volumes which were the best we had seen in five years. That’s three consecutive days where our record was beaten, so there’s no doubting that there’s a lot of activity ongoing, and that we appear to have a very motivated consumer base who want to purchase or sell, or both, or who want to refinance in order to purchase.
That has meant a lot of work for our business, and given the lockdown period, it is clearly very pleasing to have this level of activity available for our surveyors to conduct.
And yet, no-one in their right mind would think that this means we are ‘out of the woods’ yet or that the level of business might be sustained over a three/six/nine/12-month period. We anticipate that, over the shorter-term, the volumes will remain high, but that won’t necessarily translate into the same levels in 2021, particularly perhaps when the stamp duty holiday comes to an end.
Plus, COVID-19 presents its own very unique challenges that might well halt markets, and therefore transactions, within a very short time span. As I write, we have just seen the Government announce the highest number of cases (2,988) since the 22nd May, and apparently a third of all cases are people aged between 20-29.
Other countries have seen similar spikes in a post-national lockdown environment, and it may have always been likely as people were allowed to do more things socially, but ongoing rises in cases will need to be tackled. In fact, they already are with localised lockdowns being introduced in a number of UK regions – if these grow in number then our market will undoubtedly be further impacted.
And, of course, we have a significant recession to contend with. Again, we’re not yet truly seeing the impact of large job losses, possibly because furloughing hasn’t ended yet, but there are enough signs in the economy – with large retail operations announcing thousands of jobs to go, for example – which is likely to make its mark on the numbers of consumers wishing to be active in the housing market, let alone what might happen in the private rental sector.
So, while it’s possible to be encouraged by the Summer and early Autumn activity, we have to be cautious going forward, and we also have to be flexible in our approach. That means, being ready, willing and able, to shift our operations and resources into different areas, and to be prepared to do this at the drop of a hat.
Having that ability to move quickly and decisively could be crucial, especially if you’re in an area impacted by a lockdown, or one that may feel the brunt of a recession more than others. For now, the market seems strong and is performing well – maintaining that and making the most of any market change will be the next big challenge for all of us.
Simon Jackson, Managing Director at SDL Surveying