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Back to work – how is the London property market faring?

On May 13, the property market in all parts of England was given the go-ahead to reopen. Since then, there has been a lot of talk of pent-up demand being released and buyers and sellers launching themselves into action.

But how has London’s property market coped since the industry was allowed back to work?

“Much as it pains me to say it as a London buying agent, we are seeing a surge in interest in people moving out of the capital to the country,” Guy Meacock, director of buying agency Prime Purchase, said.

“I seem to be referring numerous clients to my country colleagues as they turn their attention from a London search to something more rural.”

Just last week, he said, a bank CEO and his family told him they were stopping their London search, which began pre-Covid, and switching attention to the country instead as they discovered they ‘can work from home quite well’.

“An expatriate looking to return to the UK, who had been interested in buying in the capital, now wants a family home in Berkshire where his wife comes from,” Meacock added. “Yet another client who had taken a job requiring a weekly commute to the continent and was moving to London from Sevenoaks for ease of access to the airport, is now not travelling and reconsidering whether the job is viable anymore so his London search is on hold.”

Meacock said that, while there is a seemingly endless stream of people wanting to leave London, he would urge some caution.

“The fine weather is helping fuel this move to the country, along with the realisation that people can work from home more easily and a quick glance at the portals to see just what you can get for your money. But those whose move was a kneejerk reaction may come to think rather differently in the depths of winter.” 

He said there is still plenty of activity in the capital – although a lot of this is window shopping, with people slow to make decisions. A surge of ex-rental stock is coming to market with tenants from overseas not able to fly over and changing their plans about renting in London.

“The international student body is also much constrained, while some of the younger, more mobile professionals have lost their jobs and are unable to pay their rent,” Meacock went on. “Landlords argue that if there isn’t any income to be made, they may as well offload their property.”

He believes problems may arise where expectations on price have not shifted from pre-Covid levels.

“It is difficult for agents to advise where to pitch the price with so little evidence of transactions in the last quarter. If sellers set their stall out too high, the market will seize up,” Meacock explained.

“There are two groups – those who want to get on and buy and sell, and those with their heads in the sand. There are plenty of bottom-feeders who will consider any location as long as it is cheap. However, they are wrong if they think plenty of people want to off-load prime flats. We are just not seeing it.”

He said that while a move to the country may be the ‘trend du jour’, Prime Purchase is retaining its faith in London in the long-term.

“Its attractions remain; while the life, energy, buzz, and the bright lights of the smoke may all be dimmed at the moment, they will be turned back on,” Meacock explained. “Even if people are briefly considering a change in lifestyle, they will go back to what they know unless there are big life-changing decisions on the horizon. The London star will rise again.” 

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