96 homes sold in Suffolk in March - but estate agents busier than ever
- Credit: Archant
Lockdown froze the housing market with the biggest blow to the industry in a generation – but buyers in Suffolk are chomping at the bit to buy, according to estate agents.
Just 96 homes were sold in Suffolk in March 2020 – down 85% on the previous month (650) – due to the nationwide lockdown preventing sales from completing and buyers withdrawing offers amid economic uncertainty.
But despite the huge and sudden freeze to the housing market, estate agents are feeling optimistic about a return to business.
What are estate agents saying?
Jonathan Waters, of Foxhall Estate agents in Ipswich, said: “In my 33 years as an estate agent I had only sold one property without the buyer seeing the house, because he was abroad.
“Since the lockdown was eased I have sold a house on the basis of a video tour, I’ve never done that before.
“We all got taken by surprise when the call came through last Tuesday that estate agents could reopen, but since then we’ve been really busy, not just with returning customers but with new buyers and first-time buyers.
“It seems like people have had time to take stock during the pandemic and decide if they want to stay put or move.
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“Our office is still shut to the public and we have had to ask sellers to record virtual tours of their homes.
“Some people have been really inventive, they’re doing a great job of showing off the best features of their house.”
Peter Ogilvie, director of Savills’ Ipswich office, agreed the short-term future of the market looked bright.
“We are seeing a significant increase in activity,” he said.
“People seem to be saying they are putting more importance on the lifestyle they want as they look for houses after lockdown.
“We have seen an increase in the number of buyers from London looking for somewhere more rural that you can still reach the city from.
“I think we may not see the increase reflected just yet but there will be a spike in completions in the months to come.”
How are first-time buyers feeling?
One couple looking for a first home in Bury St Edmunds, who wished to remain anonymous, explained why they had withdrawn their offer on a home after two weeks of lockdown.
The pair are currently renting and looking for a home for the two of them and their young daughter, attending primary school in the town, for less than £330,000.
But they also have a ticking clock – their mortgage offer will expire in August and it is not clear if a similar offer will be available from lenders then, potentially leaving them unable to move.
“We had an offer om a house in place, in a village outside Bury St Edmunds, and then the lockdown started,” they said.
“I’m an antiques dealer, my partner is a building surveyor, and both our jobs were affected. We can still pay the rent but the whole situation made us reconsider what we wanted from a home.
“We were going on more walks near our house and realised the value of what was around us, my daughter told me she didn’t want to change schools, and we realised if we did have to scale back spending, for example if we had to sell a car, we wouldn’t be able to do that in village life because we would still need our own transport.”
However, since re-entering the market in May the couple have struggled to get an offer accepted.
“I had thought that because we had no onward chain and we had a decent deposit, about £100,000, we would be okay and find a buyer looking to sell quickly.
“We have had an offer rejected on one property and we lost out on another one to a cash buyer.
“We were ready to go before lockdown, we have still got half the house in boxes, and we have to find somewhere before our offer expires.
“We’re doing virtual tours but we have found that some estate agents only want you to see houses in person if you’re going to put an offer in, and it’s hard to know if you will before you see it. It’s disappointing really.”
Is there any help for first-time buyers?
While new help-to-buy ISAs were discontinued in 2019, those that opened the accounts are still eligible for an additional 25% of the total they save, to be put towards the deposit for a home under £250,000.
There are also shared ownership schemes and help-to-buy mortgages that allow budding homeowners to purchase part of a home and paying a smaller mortgage as well as some rent for the remaining part.
Mr Waters had four pieces of advice for first-time buyers, wether they were entering the market for the first time or coming back after starting to look before lockdown.
“First of all, be prepared to shop around for a mortgage. Once lockdown struck a lot of lenders pulled their 90% mortgages from the market which can leave many first-time buyers with no options.
“These are being reintroduces slowly and they are out there, so make sure you check with more than one lender.
“Secondly, don’t worry if you cannot find a house at the moment. We are seeing more properties added to the market each day and I believe there could be six or seven weeks worth of homes coming to the market that have been held back during lockdown.
“There could be an influx of homes coming soon so keep checking.
“Thirdly, you may have to be more patient than before because buying a house takes longer now. First you might have a virtual viewing, then we have to arrange for one in person and we have to make sure it is safe for everyone and the sellers are comfortable having people inside.
“We’re looking at masks, gloves, shoe coverings and obviously asking people not to touch anything on viewings, so it’s going to be a very different experience.
“And lastly, do not think you can get anyone to drop their price. During the 2008 recession we saw buyers trying to take a lot off asking prices because buyers needed to sell.
“Sellers aren’t in the same position this time, and it’s not a good idea to try and use the situation we are all in to take thousands off of an offer.”