Daily Archives: March 28, 2020

Say No To Rightmove – the fight goes on says campaign leader

Say No To Rightmove - the fight goes on says campaign leader

The key figure behind the Say No To Rightmove campaign says the fight for more realistic fees goes on – and agents are still joining the campaign hour by hour.

The portal caved in to pressure from agents a week ago and agreed a short-term 75 per cent fees reduction to help the industry through the Coronavirus crisis.

However Robert Sargent, chief executive of the Acorn Group, has today told industry analyst Chris Watkin in a video interview that the campaign now has 900 business owners with more still joining “on an hourly basis.”

Sargent’s company has 36 branches across London and the south east and spends close to £500,000 on fees to the portal.

He says the short term fees reduction was a sign that Rightmove realised the importance of agents who provided its content, but it was simply the portal realising what it had to do for an industry going into lockdown – it was not a solution to a longer term problem.

The core of the issue, says Sargent, is that independent agents pay top dollar – up to £3,000 per branch per month – whereas corporates can negotiate substantial economies of scale and thus smaller fees.

The interview is just under 10 minutes long and provides a fascinating insight into the campaign which has caught the imagination of much of the industry, and what it plans next.

Housing market could be ‘frozen’ to avoid Coronavirus crash

Housing market could be ‘frozen’ to avoid Coronavirus crash

It’s been reported that the government is talking with banks and building societies about putting the housing market ‘on ice’ during the virus crisis to avoid a crash and to allow financial institutions to offer mortgages.

Today’s Financial Times says UK Finance – the trade body representing mortgage lenders – has told members: “UK Finance has been seeking urgent clarification from the government about whether home purchases should continue at the current time, particularly as physical property valuations are no longer possible.”

One suggestion is that offers of mortgages in principle could extend to six months rather than three.

The FT story follows growing concern yesterday that many mortgage lenders were withdrawing their products or severely restricting access to them; this was thought to be because valuations were not possible ‘in person’, and because of uncertainty that homes would retain their value over the coming months.

Lloyds Banking Group and Barclays, two of the UK’s biggest lenders, are temporarily pulling many of their mortgages. Lloyds has stopped offering mortgages or remortgages through brokers unless the customer has a deposit of at least 40 per cent of the value of the property.

Barclays told brokers it would no longer offer mortgages for customers that did not have a deposit of at least 40 per cent, but it will continue to offer remortgaging deals.

Last evening the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, took to Twitter to say: “I know that many people across the country are due to move house tomorrow. Whilst emergency measures are in place, all parties should do all they can to agree a new move date. If you’re socially isolating or being shielded, it’s especially important to try and delay.”

And this was followed up by tweets from the MHCLG saying: “People should delay moving where possible … Estate agents must work remotely to support their clients … If your home is on the market, you shouldn’t let buyers visit your home.”

Earlier this week the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government had advised buyers and renters to, if at all possible, delay moving home until the Coronavirus crisis has subsided.

The same guidance also allows tradespeople to continue repairs and maintenance work, “provided that the tradesperson is well and has no symptoms.”

“No work should be carried out in any household which is isolating or where an individual is being shielded, unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household, such as emergency plumbing or repairs, and where the tradesperson is willing to do so.”

Rightmove “taking appropriate measures” to shore up company

Rightmove "taking appropriate measures" to shore up company

Rightmove has this morning told its shareholders it is “taking appropriate measures” to shore up the company.

It gives no indication of what those measures are but it says in a trading statement released at 7am today: “In this period of unprecedented uncertainty, we are unable to quantify the impact of COVID-19 on our financial and trading performance at this stage. Accordingly, the group is suspending all existing financial guidance for 2020. The board is confident that the company has the financial capacity to withstand this challenging period.”

It has scrapped a dividend to shareholders and suspended financial guidance on how the firm will perform this year.

Shareholders were to have received a final dividend payment of 4.4p per share for the year ending December 31 but in the light of the Coronavirus crisis, that has been stopped.

In a bid to pacify those with a stake in the company, Rightmove has told them: “The board recognises the importance of the dividend to our shareholders and will consider the timing of the reinstatement of the share buyback programme and the quantum of any interim dividend for 2020 in due course.”

It goes on to say: “The strength of our balance sheet and business model has enabled the board to act quickly to support our customers [the offer to agents] as announced on 20 March.”

A week ago today Rightmove revealed it would slash its charges to agents by 75 per cent for four months.

The portal also apologised for getting it so badly wrong with its deferred payment scheme, which was derided by customers – many of which left the portal in disgust.

A statement from Rightmove to agents at the time said: “I don’t think many of us would have predicted sitting in our offices last week that we’d be where we are today, with the possibility of more restrictive measures approaching. Earlier this week we offered our independent estate and lettings agents a deferred payment scheme to help them through the next few months. The situation in the UK has changed rapidly and we’re sorry that it was too little and now inappropriate for the challenges we all face.”

The portal went on to say a week ago: “Instead of offering the deferred payment scheme to independent estate and lettings agents, we’re going to reduce your Rightmove bill by 75% for four months, starting from 1st April whether you advertise residential properties, new homes or commercial premises. You don’t need to apply for this discount, your invoice will automatically come through reduced by 75%. To be clear, this is not a deferred payment, this is a discount that you don’t need to pay back.

Agents Beware: definitive government guidance on buying and selling

Agents Beware: definitive government guidance on buying and selling

The government has at last issued extensive advice on home moving and the activities of estate agents during the continuing Coronavirus crisis.

This came last evening after days of debate on how much marketing, valuing, viewing and conveyancing could be done during the lockdown.

Here is the guidance in full:

There is no need to pull out of transactions, but we all need to ensure we are following guidance to stay at home and away from others at all times, including the specific measures for those who are presenting symptoms, self-isolating or shielding. Prioritising the health of individuals and the public must be the priority.

Where the property being moved into is vacant, then you can continue with this transaction although you should follow the guidance in this document on home removals. Where the property is currently occupied, we encourage all parties to do all they can to amicably agree alternative dates to move, for a time when it is likely that stay-at-home measures against coronavirus (COVID-19) will no longer be in place.

In the new emergency enforcement powers that the police have been given to respond to coronavirus, there is an exemption for critical home moves, in the event that a new date is unable to be agreed.

Recognising parties will need to alter common practice, we have sought to ease this process for all involved by:

  1. Issuing this guidance, developed with Public Health England, to home buyers and those involved in the selling and moving process;
  2. Agreeing with banks that mortgage offers should be extended where delay to completions takes place in order to prioritise safety; and,
  3. Working with Conveyancers to develop a standard legal process for moving completion dates.

Advice to the public

What does this mean for my property move which is scheduled whilst the stay-at-home measures to fight coronavirus (COIVD-19) apply?

  • Home buyers and renters should, where possible, delay moving to a new house while measures are in place to fight coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Our advice is that if you have already exchanged contracts and the property is currently occupied then all parties should work together to agree a delay or another way to resolve this matter.
  • If moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and the parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay, people must follow advice on staying away from others to minimise the spread of the virus.
  • In line with Government’s advice, anyone with symptoms, self-isolating or shielding from the virus, should follow medical advice which will mean not moving house for the time being, if at all possible. 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.

What if an extension goes beyond the terms of a mortgage agreement?

UK Finance have today confirmed that, to support customers who have already exchanged contracts for house purchases and set dates for completion, all mortgage lenders are working to find ways to enable customers who have exchanged contracts to extend their mortgage offer for up to three months to enable them to move at a later date.

If a customer’s circumstances change during this three month period or the terms of the house purchase change significantly and continuing with the mortgage would cause house buyers to face financial hardship, lenders will work with customers to help them manage their finances as a matter of urgency.

If your home is not yet on the market

Getting your home onto the market may be more challenging than usual in this period.There should be no visitors to your home. You can speak to Estate Agents over the phone and they will be able to give you general advice about the local property market and handle certain matters remotely but they will not be able to start actively marketing your home in the usual manner.

  • If you are thinking about selling, you can use this time to start gathering together all of the information you will need to provide to potential purchasers.
  • Advice for people to stay at home and away from others means you should not invite unnecessary visitors into your home, including: Property Agents to carry out a market appraisal or take internal photographs prior to marketing your home; and Energy Performance Certificate assessors.

Viewings

If your property is already on the market, you can continue to advertise it as being for sale but you should not allow people in to view your property.

  • There should not be any visitors into your home, and you should therefore not let people visit your property for viewings. Your agent may be able to conduct virtual viewings and you could speak to them about this possibility.

Accepting offers

The buying and selling process can continue during this period but you should be aware that the process is likely to take longer than normal.

  • You are free to continue to accept offers on your property, however the selling process may take longer.
  • Advice for people to stay at home and away from others means you should not invite visitors into your home, including prospective buyers or advisors.

Exchanging contracts

Once you have exchanged contracts, you have entered into a legal agreement to purchase that home.

  • If the property you are purchasing in unoccupied you can continue with the transaction.
  • If the property you are purchasing is currently occupied, we recommend that all parties should work either delay the exchange of contracts until after the period where stay-at-home measures to fight coronavirus (COVID-19) are in place, or include explicit contractual provisions to take account of the risks presented by the virus.

Advice to industry

All businesses must follow the Government’s latest Guidance for employers and businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19).

Estate Agents

Estate Agents should ensure they are able to support clients during this period:

  • Agents should work with their clients and other agents to broker a new date to move where sales are due to complete on occupied properties in the current period where emergency measures are in place to fight coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Agents should prioritise support for anyone with symptoms, self-isolating or shielding from the virus, and those they are in chain with, to agree a new date.
  • In line with advice for certain businesses to close, agents should not open branches to the public during this period, or visit people’s homes to carry out market appraisals.
  • Agents should ensure that employees can work from home, to support existing clients and advise potential new clients.
  • Agents should continue to progress sales where this can be done whilst following guidance to stay at home and away from others.
  • Agents should advise clients to be patient and not to exchange contracts unless the contracts have explicit terms to manage the timing risks presented by the virus.

Conveyancers

Conveyancers should continue to support the sales process as far as possible and should make sure their clients are aware of the difficulties of completing transactions in this period:

  • Conveyancers should continue to support the sales of unoccupied properties as far as possible.
  • Conveyancers should make every effort to support clients who are due to complete on occupied properties in the stay-at-home period to change this date.
  • Conveyancers should advise their clients who are ready to move not to exchange contracts on an occupied property unless they have made explicit provision for the risks presented by the virus.
  • Conveyancers should prioritise support anyone with symptoms, self-isolating or shielding from the virus and those they are in chain with, and we urge them to do all they can to help a new date to be agreed in these circumstances.

Surveyors

Surveyors should not expect to carry out non-urgent surveys in homes where people are in residence, and no inspections should take place if any person in the property is showing symptoms, self-isolating or being shielded. It may be possible to carry out some of your work online and also carry out urgent surveys on empty properties, or those where the occupants are out of the property or following guidance to stay at home and away from others.

  • Surveyors should follow the latest Government guidance which currently (26 March 2020) states that work carried out in people’s homes can continue, provided the tradesperson is well and has no symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • It is important to ensure Government guidelines are followed, including maintaining a 2 metre distance from others, and washing their hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds (or using hand sanitiser gel if soap and water is not available).
  • No work should be carried out by a person who has coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms, however mild.

Removals Firms

There will be people who have already committed to moving home; where possible we are encouraging them to delay their move but a small number of moves may need to go ahead. We would urge everyone to take all sensible precautions to ensure the move can happen safely.

  • Removers should honour their existing commitments where it is clear that the move can be done safely for the client and your own staff and it is clear that the moving date cannot be moved.
  • Removers should follow the latest Government guidance which currently (26 March 2020) states that work carried out in people’s homes can continue, provided the tradesperson is well and has no symptoms or coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • It is important to ensure Government guidelines are followed, including maintaining a 2 metre distance from others, and washing their hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds (or using hand sanitiser gel if soap and water is not available).
  • No work should be carried out by a person who has coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms, however mild.