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Coronavirus and Property: Advice & Guidance

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Last updated: 3rd March 2021

We’re now in our third national lockdown, with restrictions not looking likely to lift any time soon. 

While, for most of us, the primary concern is our health and keeping our loved ones safe, the ongoing situation with coronavirus certainly throws up a lot of property-related questions.

From moving home to stamp duty extensions, this guide covers the latest when it comes to coronavirus and property. 

Latest COVID-19 rules 

In England, the entire country is in full lockdown until at least mid-February. Schools, restaurants, gyms, pubs etc. are all shut. The rule is ‘stay at home’ as much as possible, and follow safety measures such as wearing a mask and keeping 2m apart.

What does this mean for property?

The situation appears to be changing daily, but here’s where we stand currently:

  • You can still move home. Currently, the housing market is open and the government advice states that you can continue with planned moves and property viewings
    • The latter should be done virtually (at least initially) as much as possible
    • Estate agents can continue to work (unlike the first lockdown) and conduct house viewings but only with homebuyers who are in a position to proceed
    • Guidance requires agents to verify each buyer is in a position to proceed (e.g. their own property must be under offer, and they have a mortgage agreed in principle)  
    • ‘Open house’ viewings cannot take place 
    • Wear face coverings during viewings
    • Take care to avoid unnecessarily touching surfaces and door handles if possible when viewing a potential property
    • Family members (or people outside of your bubble) shouldn’t help you pack and move
    • This applies to both tenants and buyers 
  • If you want to buy a new build, contact the sales team of the development you’re interested in  
  • Tradespeople remain able to enter your home (e.g. electricians, plumbers) 
  • Removal companies can continue to work also following strict guidelines 
  • Professional cleaners also remain operational while following guidelines 

Caution when moving home

Some hopeful buyers are travelling hundreds of miles to view properties, breaking safety regulations. People shouldn’t leaving their area for non-essential purposes. Estate agents have raised concerns over the issue, calling for tighter restrictions. They have the right to refuse viewings, or close their offices completely if needed. Agents are recommending people travel to viewings once lockdown is lifted – not before.

Estate agents have also reported that the public are putting pressure on them to break COVID-19 rules during house viewings. It’s extremely important we all do our bit to keep each other safe during this time. Some agencies have closed voluntarily due to safety fears.

What about sellers?

  • You can put your home up for sale and advertise it, estate agents’ designated photographers are permitted to enter to take photos and collect other marketing material such as floor plan measurements
  • Initial property searches should take place online
  • All physical viewings must be by appointment-only
  • Properties should be thoroughly cleaned and aired after every viewing 
  • Ensure all parties wear a facemask when entering your home (this includes estate agents – they must adhere to safety rules)
  • You can accept offers as normal 
  • Note: some things might be slower due to the ongoing situation with COVID-19, but a lot needs to happen between exchange and completion 
    • Take care to micromanage your property purchase
    • Keep communication open to avoid delays 
    • Ensure you know where everyone is at and what needs to happen
    • Work closely with your solicitor and estate agent

There WILL be a stamp duty holiday extension

To help inject some life into the housing market, a stamp duty holiday extension (SDLT) was announced in July. This provided a temporary holiday of SDLT on the first £500,000 of all homes sold in England and Northern Ireland.

The debate to extend stamp duty took place on the 1st February, after a petition calling for an extension of an additional 6 months has (to date) gathered over 148,000 signatures.

On the 3rd March, the Chancellor confirmed that the holiday will be extended until the 30th June, to keep the property market firing until the end of lockdown. This is a three-month extension. It will then have a taper to the end of September, for properties up to £250,000. After that, the standard rules regarding stamp duty will apply – nothing paid for the first £125,000.

Why was there pressure to extend?

Sellers and buyers alike have benefitted from this temporary holiday.

Move iQ’s founder and property expert, Phil Spencer, previously shared concerns over a sudden end to the temporary holiday, fearing that many deals would collapse. These fears weren’t unfounded, as it was been reported that a third of would-be buyers would pull out of a purchase if they missed the deadline. If one person in a property chain didn’t meet the deadline, and had to find an extra £5,000-15,000 somewhere, this could have, in Spencer’s view, cause chaos.

Rightmove has reported a 0.9% drop in the average house price as of January 2021. Could this extension help breathe life back into the market?

The other side

Not everyone agrees, including buying agent and property expert Henry Pryor. According to Pryor, the housing market ‘had a pulse and didn’t need a life support machine’. He calls the holiday unnecessary and said it removed the advantage for first time buyers and stamp duty.

A question arises: was the housing market boom due to the policy, or due to playing catch-up for the lost time during the first lockdown?

There are also concerns that some buyers have ended up paying more for properties than they save in stamp duty. This is because the market boom has inflated house prices, meaning people are paying more on average than in previous years. As of 2020, the average house price in the UK is valued at £245,443, which makes for an annual price rise of 5.4%.

How are things for first-time buyers?

There’s no doubt that first-time buyers have been one of the worst hit groups when it comes to property in the pandemic. While it can be hard to get on the property ladder, they made up a significant chunk of the market.

Until March 2020, high loan to value mortgages were widely available. However, after lockdown, many banks withdrew these loans due to posing now a higher-risk. 90% and 95% mortgages all but disappeared. This meant many would-be buyers had to delay their plans to buy, as their mortgage options dried up. 

Also, applications for the Help to Buy Equity Loan scheme closed in December 2020. Those who applied must legally complete by 31st March 2021. There is now a new Equity Loan scheme in place, which runs until 2023. It allows you to borrow between 5-20% (40% in London) of the full purchase price of a new-build home.

New mortgage guarantee scheme

Despite the difficulties, the mortgage limitations haven’t gone unnoticed. The government is now offering a new 95% mortgage guarantee scheme, in a bid to help turn ‘Generation Buy’ into ‘Generation Rent’. The scheme promises to offer a helping hand to buyers with only a 5% deposit. 

  • Applies to properties up to £600,000
  • These properties do not have to be a new build
  • It’s not restricted to first-time buyers alone

This scheme will be offered by large banks, including Natwest and HSBC.

What’s the latest with mortgage holidays?

A mortgage holiday is a temporary freeze in payment for a set period of time. It’s been extended to July 2021.

When’s the deadline to apply?

The deadline to apply for a mortgage payment holiday has been extended to 31st March 2021. This holiday can be for a maximum of 6 months (if you’ve not taken any holidays on your mortgage payments yet). 

Who can apply?

This is in place to support you if your income has been affected by coronavirus, for example if you’re furloughed or self-employed.

If you’re behind with mortgage payments, you can still apply.

You can also still apply if the reason you need it isn’t related to coronavirus. However, there are different rules in place, so speak to your lender to find out what they are.

How to apply

Different lenders have different rules, but the process should look something like this:

  1. Contact your mortgage lender (many have online functionality which might make life easier)
  2. Be open and honest about why you need the holiday
  3. Discuss in detail the implications e.g. on future payments
  4. Discuss alternative means of repaying the amount if suitable e.g. a lump sum payment 
  5. Ensure all information provided to you is clear
  6. Ask them to explain exactly what this means for you

What if you’ve already taken a holiday?

If you’ve already taken a mortgage holiday, it’s in your best interests to start paying again as soon as you can afford to. However, you can extend (or ‘top up’) to a maximum of 6 months if you feel it’s necessary. The same deadline of the 31st March applies.

Payment holidays are typically given in 3-month blocks.

If you’re still on your first payment holiday and extending it takes you past the 31st March, you can apply for an extension. Bear in mind that all payment deferrals need to end by 31st July 2021.

What not to do

Cancelling your direct debit or regular payment is not the same as a holiday: you must apply and your agreement must be accepted by your mortgage lender. Simply cancelling without prior agreement with your lender will likely negatively affect your credit score and missed payments may affect your ability to remortgage with favourable rates, or at all. 

While payment holidays won’t count against you like missed payments will, they are still logged on your credit history. This may not directly impact your credit score, however lenders may take this into account in a future application, which in turn may not affect the rates you’re offered.

How does it work?

It’s important to consider carefully if this is the right decision for you. Deferred payments will mean an increase in your monthly payments when payments resume, as you will have  accrued interest. Can you afford this? Consider your future financial commitments also.

You can elect to extend the term of your mortgage, but bear in mind this will mean you’re paying your mortgage back for longer.

Another option is to pay just the interest or capital-only repayments during your mortgage holiday, which will decrease the amount you have to pay back once the holiday is over compared to if zero payments were made.

Ensure your lender clearly explains and you fully understand the implications of any decision you make and what it means for you. 

Should you take a mortgage payment holiday? 

The answer to this depends entirely on your personal circumstances. For example, if you’re on furlough, have a family and income has been significantly reduced, it might be wise to talk to your lender straight away. Bear in mind, it could affect your ability to get credit in future. 

However, if you need temporary relief, it’s something to consider – only after discussing the implications with your lender.

Better to be open and honest – they are here to help, ensure they discuss your options in detail and what any decision will mean. Things to discuss in detail with your lender include:

  • What future payments will look like (will it mean higher future payments, as interest won’t be frozen?)
  • How it will be viewed on your credit score
  • How long you’ll be paying it back for 

Whatever you do, don’t take matters into your own hands without discussing with a mortgage provider or debt finance support.

Need more help?

If you’ve already had 6 months of holiday, there are some other options available to you. You can apply for tailored support:

  • An extension to your mortgage term (essentially a remortgage)
  • Changing your mortgage type (e.g. to interest-only)
  • A further payment holiday – good for those who can’t commit to longer-term changes e.g. mortgage type
  • A further period of reduced payments 

Speak to your lender to explore your options. Bear in mind that tailored support will go on your credit report. Your lender should let you know if any support offered to you will negatively affect your credit score.

What can I do if struggling to pay rent?

The number of households in rental arrears has seen 150% increase compared to pre-pandemic levels. There’s no doubt that renters have been hit hard by the impact of COVID-19, disproportionately so; renters are 4x more likely to end up in arrears than mortgagors if furloughed.

You might be entitled to more financial help, such as universal credit. The universal credit £20 a week boost has been extended for a further 6-months. You should also speak to your landlord to see if you can come to an agreement on a revised repayment plan. 

Help for the self-employed

Who can now claim the SEISS (self-employment income support scheme)? It is now open to any self employed person who submitted their 2019/20 tax return by midnight on the 2nd March.

This means that anyone who became self-employed last year, can also now claim the 4th and 5th grants. The Chancellor said the extension would bring in more than 600,000 additional people.

The fifth and final grant will be open for applicants towards the end of July.

Can I be evicted?

If you rent your home, your landlord cannot start eviction proceedings until the 31st March 2021 at the earliest. This has been extended further, from the 21st February. This prevents sanctioned possession orders in England from being carried out via a bailiff.

The original suspension was announced in August 2020, and renters will continue to be protected.

However, it’s important to remember that in some circumstances, you can still be served notice to vacate, including:

  • Illegal occupation
  • False statement
  • Anti-social behaviour
  • Perpetrators of domestic abuse in the social sector
  • Rent arrears (for 6 months’ rent or more a minimum of 4 weeks’ notice will be required)
  • Breach of immigration rules

Should I stop paying rent in the pandemic?

Landlords aren’t required to stop charging rent, and often they have mortgages to pay on their properties. Falling into arrears could result in the house being repossessed, so it would be a lose-lose all round.

Tenants should continue to pay if they can afford to, and continue to abide by their tenancy agreement as normal. If not, you should speak to your landlord as soon as possible.

If you’re seeing your income fluctuate due to the ongoing situation with the pandemic, start a conversation on the issue. It’s likely your landlord will also be negatively affected, particularly if not receiving rent, so perhaps an agreement could be found that works for both of you. We should all try to work to support each other during this difficult time.

Communication is never more important right now – being upfront and honest is the only way forward.

Is there any help out there for students?

Undoubtedly, students have been hit hard by the pandemic. Thousands have found themselves having to pay for expensive accommodation that they can’t live in, while paying full tuition prices from online Zoom classes. £20 million in funding to help students was announced in December 2020, but many felt their struggles have been ignored by the government.

However, as of 2nd February, an additional £50 million has been announced, to help students with the financial pressures of the pandemic. This means that universities will be able to help students affected by the pandemic, such as job losses, additional costs for alternative accommodation, or costs involved with teaching online.

It falls to the universities to distribute this funding – prioritising those most in need.

Finding it hard to pay your bills? 

It’s extremely rare for power to be completely disconnected or switched off by energy suppliers because someone is in debt or behind on payments. 

When it comes to prepayment meters, there are rules on who can be disconnected, for example, premises solely occupied by pensioners.

Some suppliers have offered to help during the pandemic, however this is done on a case-by-case basis, so there are no guarantees. But, it can’t hurt to explore your options. If you find yourself struggling, contact your provider straight away.

Switching energy supplier could help you save. You could save hundreds a year, which might just be a big help at this time, where every penny counts. 

Switch Energy Supplier Here

Where to go for support

Unable to top up your prepayment meter? Suppliers must provide you with emergency support, which could be:

  • ‘Friendly-hours’ credit (overnight, at weekends and public holidays) if top up points are closed or your meter runs low or runs out
  • Additional support credit
  • Emergency credit, if your meter runs low or runs out

Are you struggling to keep up with financial commitments?

Whether it’s car payments, loans or credit card debt – you can apply for payment holidays of 3-6 months – any time before 31st March 2021. The rules vary depending on what you need a holiday from (e.g. payday loan or car finance) and your lender. 

The effect of coronavirus on income has been huge, but there are options available to you. Whether it’s agreeing a repayment plan or reducing interest, it helps to start the conversation early and see what can be done to ease your burden.

What other help is out there? 

The average UK employee has enough savings to last them just 32 days on their current lifestyle if their income stopped. How would you pay your bills if you couldn’t work due to illness? 

The pandemic has highlighted the need to safeguard for the future and save for a rainy day, as many of us have had to deal with a loss of earnings (even if temporary). 

Legal and General offer Income Protection Benefit, where you’ll receive a regular monthly benefit which is paid out until you return to work. You’ll also receive support from a dedicated rehabilitation service.

How has the pandemic changed the housing market?

Despite all the uncertainty and restrictions, people are still looking to move. In fact, coronavirus has shifted people’s priorities, with many looking to move out of the cities. People are looking for more space, gardens and outdoor areas. The pandemic changed what is meant by ‘best place to live‘.

With remote working the new normal, this also plays a part. What makes a town good to work from home are now priority criteria when buying. Buyers are now looking for:

  • Plenty of green spaces
  • Fast broadband
  • Space for a home office

Need more advice?

We’re in this pandemic together. To try and help you navigate this difficult time, we’re keeping our fingers on the pulse and sharing top tips from expert Phil Spencer regularly. 

Follow us on Twitter to stay up to date, or subscribe to our newsletter for regular insights. We’ll do our best to help you as much as possible!

Got a property question you need answering? We’re running a live Q&A session with Phil Spencer on Thursday 11th February from 5-6pm. Get your question in before then using #AskPhilMoveiQ and he’ll do his best to provide some guidance!

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Last Updated: March 3rd, 2021