Being able to show that significant progress is being made within the housing market via house moves or remortgages through to completion, is (I believe) a big component in helping grow confidence amongst not just property practitioners but, rather importantly, consumers.
For the latter group if they are able to see evidence that the housing market is functioning as close to normal as possible, even with all the extra requirements placed upon practitioners by COVID-19, then I think this cements in their mind that it is worth their while moving forward with their own property plans.
And that is a significant step forward because, while immediately post-lockdown, we were always likely to see a big jump in interest and activity based on the pent-up demand of the previous two months, we now need to ensure that the momentum created in the last month continues throughout the summer and beyond.
For property-based firms, including ourselves, that’s important because we have judgement calls to make around staffing and, to be as positive as we can about those decisions, we will probably need to see ongoing increases in interest and activity. From our perspective, we don’t want that secondary wave of new business to be something of a damp squib.
On the bright side, good news appears to be forthcoming, particularly when it comes to how lenders have reacted to the post-COVID-19 lockdown world. And yes, I’m conscious that we are very much still living through this period and that there are ongoing challenges which keep cropping up, not least the levels of lending that lenders feel comfortable with.
I know we would all have liked to see lenders back at pre-lockdown maximum LTVs immediately but that’s simply not possible in the current climate, especially when there appears to be a ‘wait and see’ approach to what might happen with pricing/valuations.
However, as mentioned, we are moving forward. You may have recently seen the announcement from HSBC that is has now cleared its backlog of physical valuations and that it is returning to a pre-lockdown timetable. That’s an incredibly positive announcement – one that perhaps we’ll take some credit for – as it ensures that HSBC (and other lenders who have cleared the backlog) can now concentrate on new business and are getting back to more ‘business as usual’ processes.
Clearly it’s also positive news for advisers who may well have had clients stuck in ‘valuation limbo’ during the lockdown, and will now be seeing progress made which, of course, will mean they are closer to receiving the income associated with these cases.
I think it’s important to underline just how important the decision was to allow physical valuations to take place, but we must also be conscious that not every country within the UK has been working towards the same timetable. Property inspections are now possible within Northern Ireland, but (at the time of writing) we are still waiting to hear whether progress will be similarly made in Wales.
So, in that sense we don’t have a level playing field across the country, but again we must be conscious that marrying up the safety of the public health with that of the economy, is a tricky decision to make. People who make these decisions will have different views on what is required, especially as we confront the potential for a second wave; at the same time we are needing to see the economy opened up in order to try and mitigate against the obvious economic impact.
In a way we are all slightly flying blind here and are trying to make decisions with limited information and during unprecedented times. There really is no such thing as ‘a sure thing’ in this environment, but you can seek solace in the fact that many others are in the same boat.
What we do know is that, despite the property industry not being business as usual, the curve is definitely an upward one. We’ve seen our instruction levels continue to rise, which shows a growing confidence in the market, and slowly but surely and with every day, we are ‘getting stronger’. Those are increasingly robust foundations on which to build on.