On Saturday 31 October, a day infamous for scary surprises, the whole nation found themselves once again reeling from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of a second full nationwide lockdown beginning on Thursday 5 November. Not so much a scary surprise, as a frightful inevitability – the prospect of Lockdown 2.0 still left many businesses wondering how it will affect them over the coming months.
After a very damaging summer period, many agents were relieved to hear that the housing industry will be kept open this time around. The message put out by the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, is that “buying, selling and renting a home can continue, in a Covid-secure way, as it has in recent months”.
In a letter published on Tuesday by the government, estate and letting agents were reassured they can continue operating as usual, given that they follow the same Covid-19 safe working guidelines produced earlier in the year. “We are committed to supporting the sector through this emergency to continue working safely to build, buy and sell the homes we all need.”
While undoubtedly many letting agents will be concerned by the introduction of stricter lockdown measures, many industry figures are hopeful that the market shouldn’t be too badly affected this time around.
ONP managing director Adam Forshaw, said: “It’s really business as usual for us because the housing market will remain open. We have all been working to Covid-safe principles for months, so we’re much better prepared to deal with the challenges of a second lockdown.”
The rising infection rate however could well have an impact on activity, as people who are concerned about their health may be put off moving home for the time being. To combat this, Ian McKenzie, head of the The Guild of Property Professionals says “now more than ever, it is crucial for estate and lettings agents to promote their Covid-secure-policies and display the measures they are taking to ensure the public’s safety.
“Given the current situation and the fact that the daily number of Covid cases is rapidly on the rise, people are going to be far more cautious with regard to the businesses they engage with. People will want to work with an agent that is following the guidelines and placing the health of their customers first.”
In addition to the ‘keep calm and carry on’ message coming from the government, agents should also be aware of several other changes coming as a result of this second lockdown.
Firstly, mortgage payment holidays are being extended for homeowners financially affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. Originally the scheme was due end on Saturday 31 October. However, now borrowers who have not yet had a mortgage holiday can request from their lender a pause in repayments, lasting up to six months.
For borrowers who have already deferred payment, they are permitted to extend their mortgage holiday until they reach the six-month limit. Around 2.5 million people have taken a payment break on their mortgage since the start of the pandemic, according to figures from UK Finance.
Additionally, the announcement of the extended furlough scheme will also bring relief to many businesses across the UK. It was expected that staff were to come off furlough on October 31, but the scheme is to be temporarily extended at least until the end of the England lockdown on December 2. Today it was reported that the scheme may potentially last through to March 2021. Employees will receive four-fifths of their current salary up to a maximum of £2,500.
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