While property activity in England surges, Northern Ireland, as Scotland and Wales, remains firmly in lockdown mode with no indication from the Government as to when estate agents can return to work.
The Guild of Property Professionals spoke to its offices in the region to find out their view on the Northern Ireland market and its awaited reopening.
Daniel Henry, Partner at Bensons says it seems that people in Northern Ireland are less inclined to do a virtual viewing and or remote valuation than those on the mainland.
“Our people are quite set in their ways and prefer face-to-face meetings, however, that said, we have seen people start to embrace it and enquire about virtual tools and how they work.
“Effectively, it has been a slower transition than England, which is probably not totally unexpected.
“England seems to be more tech savvy, with a younger professional population predominantly living in metropolitan areas, whereas as our office deals with an older population of more private individuals, living in more rural regions.”
According to Julie McCrory from Kingham Property, in her area virtual valuations are a big hit over the last two weeks.
“Clients are sending us their own videos and photos and we have succeeded in converting 100% of these to listings.
“The virtual viewings are slower to start, although people are enjoying the videos and we are offering live videos if requested, clients still want to view the property physically.
“From the start of lockdown, we have still been able to agree smaller volumes of sales, approximately 10% of which were from the virtual video, while the rest were either new build homes from plans or homes that had already been viewed before lockdown.”
Managing Director of CPS Property, Art O’Hagan, says that his branches have over 260 pre-booked enquiries waiting for viewings and 74 vendors waiting to have their property valued to place on the market.
“CPS, like all the agents in Northern Ireland, have been compliant with Government guidelines regarding no viewings during lockdown, therefore the quantity of sales has been greatly reduced.
“The lockdown has created a surge in appetite from buyers with the CPS database increasing by 18% from interested parties looking to buy property.
“The second significant reassuring factor is high street lenders in April had reduced the loan-to-value to 75%, as they were unsure of the stability of the marketplace, but they are now back lending up to 90%.
“This is reassuring for buyers; lenders returning to the property market instils confidence.”
“The Coronavirus pandemic has ‘pushed pause’ on a very stable Northern Ireland property economy.
“I think the market will open after lockdown with asking prices generally where they were in February 2020, however, buyers will feel hesitant initially as they step back into their jobs again.
“Employers have no doubt also been analysing how they could do their business more online, as this is an opportune time for those with technical skills to try to change how they run their business.
“Less face-to-face meetings are going to be implemented for the foreseeable future, as video calls have proven very effective.
“With regards to sales viewings there have been very few, so naturally there is a dip in the quantity of sales, but this has created an appetite, thus demand to acquire a new home, if that was already their plans.
“The re-opening of Land Registry will facilitate sales completions once again,” adds O’Hagan.
Daniel Henry says that as a small local business they have around a dozen new listings to get underway once restrictions are lifted.
“There is a bit of momentum starting to gather of people looking to list, however, it seems that buyers are waiting until they can physically go and see properties.
“Another anomaly that we have in Northern Ireland, is our Land Registry is still very archaic and is not online and freely accessible.
“Our Land Registry is closed which has frustrated the legal process and, until it opens again, solicitors are unable to carry out the work the need to.
“So even if someone wanted to purchase a property today, their solicitor would not be able to move forward until the Land Registry office opened,” he explains.
McCrory says that after seeing how the mainland was given so little notice to re-open her office is getting prepared now.
“The office has been deep cleaned and we have ordered protective screens for the desks.
“We have also rearranged the desks to comply with the two-metre social distancing rule. Gloves, masks and hand sanitisers are at every desk.”