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Property for Sale

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.

Useful guidance and support for dealing with tenants during Covid-19 outbreak

Useful guidance and support for dealing with tenants during Covid-19 outbreak

A high number of buy-to-let landlords are concerned about the impact of the Coronavirus, but The Guild of Letting and Management has provided some practical guidance and advice to help you cope with the existing situation.

One of the most common questions many landlords are currently asking about is the announcement the government made on the 18th March 2020, relating to evictions and support for those renting, although it is important to point out that the new legislation has not yet been released.

A key topic on the Guild’s advice line is Rent. It is important to note, that not every single tenant in the UK has been made redundant, or is experiencing difficulty, therefore, it is important to ensure that this is dealt with on a case by case basis.

Points to consider:

1. Ensure the tenant is aware that rent is still due.

2. If the tenant is experiencing difficulty, guide them to the Department of Work & Pensions website where they can obtain the guidance they require regarding pay, statutory sick pay (SSP) and other relevant up to date information.

3. Ask tenants to put their concerns to you in writing. It is important that you are able to discuss the matter with all the relevant facts to hand.

4. Speak to your lender and find out what they are putting in place. Some landlords have already offered tenants a discount on rent or a “rent holiday”. But remember, that as with the mortgage lenders, this deferred rent will have to be paid back at some point in the future.

5. Speak to the guarantor, where there is one. They should not be left out of any discussions regarding rent payments.

6. Check whether your insurer can offer rent and legal protection.

7. Keep records up to date. Every discussion, conversation over the phone, email, must be logged and documented.

8. Any pre-existing arrears (pre-18th March 2020) cannot be factored into this Coronavirus situation. Remember everyone is in the same boat. No one has experienced this before, This is not the same as the 2008 recession, this is a public health matter, so it is difficult for everyone involved on so many levels.

Savills the latest agency to warn of Coronavirus threat to transactions

Savills the latest agency to warn of Coronavirus threat to transactions

Savills is the latest agency to warn about the possible threat of Coronavirus to its business activities and success this year.

In its preliminary final results for 2019, issued this morning – and showing a strong performance for the international property group – the company says: “It is difficult accurately to predict the full impact of this issue on our business for 2020 as a whole. However, given the nature of the real estate market, we would anticipate that any near term slowdown caused by sentiment and specific measures taken to combat COVID-19 would generally result in a temporary delay in activity rather than an absolute loss of business.”

It continues: “In Asia, particularly China, it is clear that COVID-19 is having a significant impact on transactional activity and may have a similar effect elsewhere, depending to an extent on the length and severity of each outbreak. Our focus is on the welfare of our staff and clients and we have instituted protective measures in locations potentially affected by this virus.”

The trading figures for the company – which has a vast commercial and international infrastructure as well as its UK resi sales and consultancy activities – show a successful 2019.

Today’s statement says: “Our UK residential business continued to perform well in challenging conditions for much of the year which saw the UK market volume of transactions with values greater than £1m declining by two per cent year-on-year. “Against this backdrop and buoyed by the clear General Election result in December, Savills UK Residential business performed well, growing revenue by six per cent year-on-year.”

The company also says it successfully acquired and integrated London agency Currells.

Latest Countrywide “shambles” sends share price tumbling

Latest Countrywide "shambles" sends share price tumbling

Countrywide’s share price fell by as much as 17 per cent at one point yesterday afternoon as investors assessed the latest pratfall by the company – the collapse of its bid to sell its commercial arm.

As we reported yesterday there was an announcement from Countrywide a few minutes before the Budget, prompting industry cynics to say that this was a classic example of attempting to bury bad news.

The announcement effectively admitted that its bid to sell Lambert Smith Hampton to Monaco-based John Bengt Moeller for £38m was dead in the water, with new buyers being sought.

The revelation was described on Twitter as a “shambles” by respected property commentator Peter Bill, the former editor of Estate Gazette.

In a brief trading update released at the same time Countrywide reported a £17m drop in revenues last year and revealed the tenant fees ban had cost it £12m.

Within a few minutes of the announcement the Countrywide share price plummeted from 265p to 220p; it recovered slightly during the afternoon to close at 232.4p, down well over nine per cent.

Online agency reduced to shock tactics criticising High St firms

Online agency reduced to shock tactics criticising High St firms

Nested is the latest online agency to base a marketing campaign around criticism of established estate agents.

In three 30-second TV ads it accuses established agencies of failing to give a complete service to their customers.

Instead it claims to be “unique” in supporting vendors both through the sale of their existing property and their purchase of a new one.

A statement issued to the press in support of the advertisements accuses High Street agencies of focussing “only on selling properties” and asking what it would be like if other professions did the same approach “and only did half a job.”

Despite the onset of the Coronavirus crisis, one of Nested’s advertisements features paramedics and an ambulance “with hilarious results” according to the press statement issued on behalf of the agency.

“Making the investment into producing an … advertising campaign has been a huge step for us at Nested, and we’re excited to see how the ads are received by consumers. They aim to highlight our novel and hassle-free approach to an archaic and fragmented industry” says Ben Bailey, head of brand and communications at Nested.

Almost exactly a year ago Nested, which offers vendors a form of guaranteed sale, laid off 20 per cent of its workforce because of a drop off in business according to a technology publication.

This was despite the fact that in 2018 Nested raised £120m in one funding round and £80m in another, as well as earlier funding when the company launched.

Nested operates in London only – although in 2017 it told Estate Agent Today that it hoped to expand to cover Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester the following year.

 

Agent repays ‘non-returnable’ reservation fee after property row

Agent repays ‘non-returnable’ reservation fee after property row

An agency has repaid a £6,000 reservation fee to someone who thought they had purchased a property for £83,000 but was later told they must pay £100,000.

The Sunday Times reports a case where a reader made what they believed to be a successful bid of £83,000 for a property in Newport, south Wales, in an online auction held by Pattinson.

At the time of the auction they paid a £4,150 deposit and the £6,000 reservation fee.

But when they later tried to visit the property they could not, and told the paper: “My solicitor subsequently confirmed that the house had been repossessed … by the bank that had provided the mortgage for the previous owner.”

The buyer was told the purchase could only go ahead if they paid the bank’s valuation of £100,000; the buyer could not afford the higher cost but received back only £3,685 – the deposit minus legal fees.

The £6,000 reservation fee was kept by Pattinson at the time, as the firm had said from the outset that the fee was non-returnable.

The buyer concludes in its comments to the paper: “I think it is highly unethical for an auctioneer to list properties under a repossession order without disclosing this to potential buyers.”

The newspaper’s personal finance section pursued the case and obtained guidance from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors that all relevant documents relating to a property should be available for inspection – online, at the agent’s and auctioneer’s office or at the seller’s solicitor.

The buyer claims to have previously been sent a pack containing a draft contract, the property information form and other documents – but none that raised concern with their solicitor.

“RICS found no evidence of misconduct by Pattinson” says the newspaper; nontheless, the paper asked Pattinson to refund the reservation fee – which it has now done.

The newspaper goes on to say that the company apologised for having failed to respond to the buyer’s recent queries. “It said it had been in an ‘unfortunate position’ as ‘the repossession after the sale had been agreed was completely out of our hands’.”

Sellers desert online agents for High Street rivals, says Zoopla

Sellers desert online agents for High Street rivals, says Zoopla

Almost eight in 10 sellers have instructed High Street agents in the past year – a significantly higher figure than 12 months ago.

The study involved 6,000 people and was conducted for Zoopla; specifically it shows 79 per cent instructed High Street agents in 2019, whereas in 2018 the figure was 66 per cent.

Some 20 per cent of the same instructed online agents – although Zoopla’s research shows only nine per cent actually sold through online firms, suggesting the rest went on to commission High Street companies.

“Estate agency as an industry is increasingly diverse and the emergence of onlines and hybrids have certainly given the market a new dimension. That said, with research indicating High Street agents steadfast in their appeal, it suggests all operators are working to differentiate and add value to consumers whether it’s through local knowledge, sage market insight or competitive fees” says Zoopla’s chief commercial officer, Andy Marshall.

“We are also seeing agents actively diversify the services that they offer vendors. Not only does this reap financial rewards for their businesses, but also provides a one-stop shop and eases pain points for buyers and sellers” he adds.

Regionally, High Street agents are most popular in the South West, with 83 per cent of vendors using a traditional firm in 2019. East Anglia and Wales follow with 82 per cent. Scotland saw the lowest proportion of sellers opting for a High Street agent – 64 per cent.

The portal’s survey also suggests that, aside from their core business, agents are diversifying revenue streams.

Some 43 per cent are now offering mortgage advice and brokering, with 42 per cent providing legal services.

The Zoopla survey – conducted before this week’s government statements about possible disruption in the near future caused by Coronavirus – also shows 52 per cent of agents anticipating more properties coming on to the market in 2020.

This is significantly higher than the 39 per cent recorded in 2018.

Mystery surrounds top agents quitting firm’s landmark branch

Mystery surrounds top agents quitting firm's landmark branch

Estate Agent Today understands that three senior figures have departed from a key central London branch of Knight Frank.

Each of them was a partner in the company and they formed the senior management at the agency’s Kensington office: it is not known why they left.

They are believed to be Tom Tangney, who had been in the industry for over 35 years and had been at Knight Frank for 20 years; Pete Bevan, who had been closely involved in high value PCL sales for some years; and office head Sami Robertson, who was regarded as a key contact in the agency for some Far East clients.

Knight Frank recently lost central London legend Daniel Daggers, known in the industry as Mr Super Prime, who was the subject of media speculation with regard to posts of properties on Instagram. He had sold £3.85 billion of properties including a £95m mansion at London’s St James’s Park, bought by a US billionaire, and an unmodernised off-market house sale in central London worth £45m.

Knight Frank has provided EAT with a lengthy statement about the three Kensington departures, which we have published below; it does not mention any of the three departures by name.

“This is a great opportunity to ensure we have the strongest management and hire the best talent in the market. We firmly believe in recruiting or moving talent from within and in parallel to this, always looking for the very best external candidates within the market who have indicated they would like to join our award-winning team.

“Immediately after the department head for Kensington left the firm, James Pace, proprietary partner and head of the Chelsea office, moved to lead the Kensington sales team. James has been in the Knight Frank Partnership since 2006 and opened the Chelsea office in 2007, building a highly successful team and an unrivalled track record in the Chelsea and wider prime central London market.

“Supporting James, William Allen also joins the Kensington sales team as partner following 10 years at Strutt & Parker in their prime sales team, specialising in the Kensington and Holland Park markets. Tom Van Straubenzee, who jointly runs Knight Frank’s Private Office, will also take up a strategic position working closely with James, William and the existing team moving forward, assisting both vendors and buyers.

“In Chelsea, Charles Olver was promoted to Department Head for sales, taking over from James Pace. Charles has been with the firm for over ten years, based in the Knightsbridge office where he has been a Prime Central London negotiator.

“James is a true asset to our team, with over 25 years of experience and an exceptional track record earned during his time running the Chelsea office. Together with William’s local market knowledge and strong client relationships, they will bring a renewed energy and direction to the Kensington office. Charles is a highly respected agent in Knightsbridge and we look forward to him bringing his enthusiasm and understanding of the PCL market to his new role in Chelsea.

“Kensington is a crucial part of the Knight Frank network of offices and we expect it to remain as such well into the future.”

Stamp Duty change set to take centre stage in Budget next week

Stamp Duty change set to take centre stage in Budget next week

Increasing numbers of reports suggest that the government will use next week’s Budget to confirm a three per cent stamp duty surcharge on the purchase of homes by non-UK tax residents.

The new surcharge – strongly hinted at by the government for many months – would be on top of existing stamp duty on a property, and on top of the current three per cent additional homes surcharge.

The Financial Times, citing well-placed sources in The Treasury, suggest this measure will be finally confirmed by new Chancellor Rishi Sunak in his first Budget on March 11.

Leading PropTech entrepreneur Neil Cobbold, who is chief sales officer at automated payment platform PayProp, says this new stamp duty will be welcomed by domestic investors who may see competition from their overseas counterparts diminish over the coming months.

“It’s likely to have the biggest effect in the capital, where the government estimates that one in eight new London homes were bought by non-UK residents between 2014 and 2016. The surcharge was previously mooted at one per cent but its increase to three per cent will certainly act as a deterrent” he says.

But Cobbold warns: “Tenants in large English cities could suffer in the long-term if the additional tax burden leads to a fall in overseas investors and subsequently the number of rental properties available” says Cobbold.”

He adds that while there has in the recent past been much speculation surrounding wider stamp duty changes, the government appears to have put those on ice.

“Stamp duty is a hot button for consumers and property professionals, so the calls to reform the system are always plentiful in the lead up to a Budget. Boris Johnson has previously said that stamp duty rates are ‘absurdly high’ so there could be changes later in his tenure.”

“In the meantime, property professionals and consumer groups will continue to lobby politicians to reduce the pressure. Reconsidering the three per cent surcharge on additional homes and the tax rates which affect the very top end of the market would be a good first step” he explains.

Richard Donnell, director of research and insight at Zoopla, also wantsa to see SDLT reform in next week’s Budget.

“It’s time for the Chancellor to turn his attention to the core housing market and review the price bands and five per cent stamp duty rate that covers averaged priced homes across large parts of London and the commuter belt. No government wants to cut taxes indiscriminately, particularly when losses could be high. However, any cut to the rate of stamp duty could stimulate much-needed marketed activity in southern England in particular” says Donnell.

Trying to beat Rightmove is “at best expensive, at worst futile“

Trying to beat Rightmove is “at best expensive, at worst futile“

Any bid by Zoopla and OnTheMarket to displace Rightmove as the number one portal in the UK is at best expensive and at worst futile according to a leading analyst.

Mike DelPrete – former head of strategy at a New Zealand portal and a long-standing analyst of estate agencies in the UK and the US – says Rightmove is an example of a company with what he calls ‘network effects’

By this he means dominant online forces such as Rightmove, Facebook, eBay, and Craigslist are enjoy network effects – being ‘the’ place that people want to be seen, or want their products advertised.

“Even if a new entrant’s product is objectively better, a smaller audience of potential buyers and sellers means an inferior consumer proposition. Sellers want to advertise to the biggest audience possible, and buyers want the largest selection possible” he says in his latest report on the state of portals worldwide.

Specifically referring to the UK landscape he says: “For all the cyclical uproar aimed at Rightmove over its ever-increasing fees, its traffic dominance shows no signs of waning. It remains the undisputed best place to advertise properties for sale, with Millions More Buyers than its closest competition.”

DelPrete says all three major UK portals reported higher January traffic than the two previous years but while Zoopla’s and OTM’s percentage gains may sound impressive, they are from smaller bases than Rightmove’s.

“Rightmove’s traffic lead over its next closest rival remains strong and fundamentally unchanged over a number of years, despite several companies attempting to challenge its dominance” he says.

And he adds that even after Zoopla’s $3 billion acquisition by private equity firm Silver Lake in 2018, and OnTheMarket raising and spending tens of millions of pounds to compete, Rightmove’s traffic dominance remains intact.

And DelPrete writes: “The evidence suggests that it is nearly impossible for a runner-up portal to overtake the leader. In fact, there is no evidence that the all-important traffic leadership metric between the top two portals can be budged even a small amount.

“Which begs the question: Why are upstart portals attempting to displace leading portals? OnTheMarket launched in 2015 to challenge the duopoly of Rightmove and Zoopla in the UK. It was founded by a broad consortium of traditional real estate agencies who didn’t appreciate the market and pricing power enjoyed by the existing portals.”

The analyst says there are similar scenarios in Australia and the United States.

He sums up his analysis this way: “Attempting to compete directly with a leading portal is at best expensive, and at worst futile.”