LONDON (Reuters) - Buyers and renters in England will be able to move house again from Wednesday under plans set out by the government to re-start a real estate market all but frozen by virus restrictions.
While people in the middle of buying a house have been allowed to move if “reasonably necessary” during the coronavirus lockdown which began in March, property viewings were halted and estate agents’ offices closed to the public.
“Today I am announcing a comprehensive, clear and coherent plan to reopen the housing market and to restart the construction industry,” Housing minister Robert Jenrick told parliament.
It meant, he said, anyone who was not self-isolating could move “any time and for any reason”.
Last month, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said the housing market had been thrown into the deep freeze by the lockdown. The government said more than 450,000 buyers and renters had been unable to progress their move plans since March.
Rightmove, which typically advertises more than 90% of houses for sale on behalf of British estate agents, had said new sales were almost impossible.
However, visits to its website soared by 45% on Wednesday compared to the previous day and there had been 2,115 new listings of properties in just five hours, it said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday announced the government planned to begin slowly easing the measures that have closed much of the economy.
Setting out guidelines for England, Jenrick said estate agents’ offices could open, buyers and renters would be able to view properties in person, show-homes could open and conveyancers and removals firms could return to work as long as social distancing guidelines were followed.
Steps would also be taken to boost construction, including allowing builders to agree more flexible site working hours with local authorities to stagger builders’ arrival times and ease pressure on public transport.
The government will also ease rules over how planning applications have to publicised, and support smaller developers struggling with cash flow by allowing them to defer payments to local authorities.
“This is the most radical re-starting of an industry in the first phase of our national recovery roadmap. This was not an easy decision to make,” Jenrick said.
However, he said with almost no transactions, it was impossible to gauge the state of the housing market.
“I do know that in every economic recovery in modern British history, the housing market has been key,” he added.
Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison