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Prime property: lockdown buying and selling advice for investors

The UK property market is currently on hold due to the government's lockdown restrictions.

Although in-person property viewings and valuations can't take place at the moment, some transactions have still been going through.

It's estimated, however, that the number of transactions in recent weeks has dropped by around 60%.


For those operating in the prime market, leading buying agent Hannah Aykroyd provides her advice on what buyers and sellers can do and how to prepare for when restrictions on movement are lifted.

Should investors wait until the coronavirus crisis is over?

According to Aykroyd, the dog-eat-dog nature of the prime market - particularly in London - means that competition is likely to remain high, despite current circumstances.

"We are always under extreme time pressure to get deals done for our clients to avoid losing out to a competing buyer," she says.

"Whilst transactions have largely stopped for the moment, we have been retained by a number of clients during lockdown who wish to ensure they are firmly ahead of the curve once the situation eases."

Aykroyd adds that she predicts there will be plenty of pent-up demand in the prime market when lockdown measures are eased.

"For sellers, this is good news. Rather than feeling stuck or helpless, this time can be used fruitfully by buyers and sellers to get their ducks in a row."

What should prospective sellers be doing right now?

Aykroyd says that first impressions are 'disproportionately important' as people don't spend too much time viewing properties.

She says sellers should therefore think about first impressions and tackle issues such as painting the gate, planting flowers, refreshing grouting, fixing cracks, filling and painting any marks or chips and doing a deep clean.

"Go round your property writing a to-do list and be ultra-critical. Aggressively de-clutter," she says.

"Now is an excellent time to have a clear out; you can have the bags ready to go to the charity shops when they re-open."

She also advises sellers to de-personalise and make sure their property is 'camera ready'.

"In order to maximise the value of your property, it should look – and smell – immaculate."

"Invest in high-quality diffusers and candles inside the house, such as Jo Malone or Diptyque. Do not use anything cheap!" Aykroyd suggests.

Other things she says sellers should be doing during lockdown include selecting estate agents and lawyers, while also getting all the necessary paperwork ready.

What should prospective buyers be doing right now?

A normal property search takes between two and six months, according to Aykroyd. With this in mind, she advises buyers to begin their search and do what they can in current circumstances.


She adds that if buyers have a 'strong sense of the market', they can retain a lawyer and start the mortgage process. This, she anticipates, would put them three to four weeks ahead of other buyers.

What are the hurdles to completing a transaction during lockdown?

Aykroyd says one of the biggest problems facing buyers will be getting mortgage funding as although interest rates are at all-time lows, some lenders are being picky about which new customers they take on.

She says banks are adapting to the current crisis by offering pre-coronavirus loan-to-value levels and front-loading paperwork.

According to the buying agent, some parts of the market continue to operate as normal.

"Property lawyers are at their desks and working on transactions, albeit from home."

"Exchanges are not an issue in the current climate but we are hearing of Covid-19 clauses in relation to completion, to enable completion dates to be pushed back if necessary," she explains.

It's easy for cash buyers to transact at the moment, she adds.

"Indeed, we have currently been submitting blind cash offers on behalf of key investors we have worked with previously and are negotiating firmly to secure an excellent deal for them."

The biggest obstacle for sellers at the moment, according to Aykroyd, is the inability to show property to prospective buyers and valuers.

"Our investor clients in particular are often comfortable to buy sight unseen or on the basis of a video, so while virtual viewings are not a market-wide panacea they can be helpful," she says.

Is now a good time to buy or sell?

Aykroyd adds that her firm are advising buyers to stay steady, buy prime and super prime residential property in London, buy best-in-class and hold for 10 years if possible.

"People need homes, and in an uncertain world best-in-class PCL residential property remains relatively low risk, particularly when you can retain and time your exit well," she says.

As for sellers, Ackroyd suggests that it is an excellent time to sell if you're looking to upsize to a more valuable property. However, she discourages prospective downsizers from selling up at the moment as price discounts and stamp duty will work against them.

"Of course, there are considerations other than financial, and after so many weeks of lockdown people who have been putting off moving house may simply be fed up with waiting!"


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