After seven weeks of suspended animation, the news that the Government has reopened the property market was met with much relief.
After two false starts – in Sunday and Monday evening’s ministerial updates – hope was finally restored early on Tuesday evening as it was confirmed that the first wave of lockdown easing would apply to our industry with estate agents permitted to operate once more.
Perhaps the Government had given us a clue that it was set to reignite the market when, on Monday evening, it was confirmed that surveyors, plumbers and meter readers were able to return to work within the residential sector.
Without doubt, we must all proceed with caution and follow Government advice on upholding the tenets of social distancing.
That said, it goes without saying that this was the best possible result for the industry.
But given the multiplier effect of a healthy and functioning network of estate agents across the country, it’s a welcome relief for the broader economy, too.
We are all aware that estate agency – and the ability to buy and sell, let and rent property – is a catalyst for consumers to spend cash across a matrix of associated suppliers, from home removal firms, painters and decorators, DIY outlets, plumbers, electricians – all of those services who, like agents, had been on ice.
Prior to COVID-19 hitting the UK, the housing market was enjoying its strongest start to the year since 2016.
The General Election brought political certainty for the first time in recent memory, restoring a sense of order after ongoing Brexit ambiguity and a protracted tussle for Tory party leadership; and with it came an avalanche of previously pent-up demand for property.
This demand meant lockdown led to 373,000 property purchases being frozen in the transaction pipeline.
These had a collective property value of £82bn, representing nearly £1bn in estate agent commission.
But even before lockdown was implemented, fresh demand had started to fall, eventually falling to -70% at the peak of the pandemic.
Since the end of March, that decline started to bottom out, as sales demand rose steadily off a low base throughout April, and rental demand rebounded with genuine underlying strength.
The first day of the market reopening was much like uncorking a champagne bottle, with demand (active engagement with property listings) spiking at 139% in the first few hours, compared to the average of the previous four weeks.
Without doubt, this represented a quick release of pent up demand after six to eight weeks of subdued market activity.
While demand is still running at 40% below where it was at the start of March, this release of impetus will further close the gap.
We hope that the developments of this week signify the next inflection point for the market.
While the market has reopened, supporting agents as they rebuild their businesses, their transaction pipelines, their stock levels and their customer bases while navigating the challenges of the social distancing guidelines, is paramount.
By taking these steps to reopen the market, the Government will give confidence to the market and send a clear signal that Britain is back open for business. We look forward to supporting our agent partners as they do their bit to get the economy moving again.
Charlie Bryant is CEO of Zoopla