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First-time-buyers leap into action as post-lockdown housing market surges


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Estate-agents in Kent are being rushed off their feet as the demand for buying properties continues to soar after the coronavirus lockdown.

The seven-week shut down of the housing market as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with the government's stamp duty holiday, has sent buyers and sellers into a scramble.

The housing market surged as lockdown lifted. Photo Yui Mok/PA Wire
The housing market surged as lockdown lifted. Photo Yui Mok/PA Wire

Chris Fox, CEO of Fox Estate Agents in Dartford, says it has been the busiest he has ever seen.

He said: "It's been crazy. I've been an agent now for over 40 years and, honestly, I've never known it so busy.

"One day I actually started at 8 in the morning and didn't finished until 10 - it's completely nuts."

The stamp duty holiday was announced last month by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, which is set to save people money who are getting on the property ladder or moving up it.

Buyers purchasing a property priced between £125,000 and £500,000 will pay the "nil rate" band of stamp duty, saving a significant portion of cash.

And with the tax holiday ending on March 31 next year, Chris believes the period is only likely to get busier before trailing off in April 2021.

He said given that the stamp duty offer was for a limited time only, with lots of people looking to take advantage of it, it had been really tough.

"I think once the stamp duty holiday is over, unless the government extends it or makes further changes, I think the property market will slow down because so many people will move between now and March," he added.

Julia Scarlett and her husband Jon Biggs were busy at the start of the year house-hunting to find a family home for themselves and their two-year-old daughter Ruby.

Being self-employed, the couple had to wait much longer to be able to apply for a mortgage, due to needing the required number of tax returns.

Julia Scarlett and her husband Jon Biggs, hard at work renovating their new home
Julia Scarlett and her husband Jon Biggs, hard at work renovating their new home

When the lockdown stopped them in their tracks it hit the young family hard.

Julia said: "It was completely disheartening and quite depressing actually, and we were both in a bit of a slump for a while.

"We thought we were going to be able to start that new chapter in our lives but it had sort of been ripped out from under us."

They continued to rent in Chestfield, near Whitstable, holding out and hoping the pandemic would end so they could start looking again.

The 37-year-old said: "We were put on hold, looking at properties online, and then a couple of days after the estate agents opened, we were straight in there looking at properties, so we were quite lucky in that we were able to get a mortgage in principle almost as soon as the mortgage lenders started lending again."

Julia and Jon with their two-year-old daughter Ruby
Julia and Jon with their two-year-old daughter Ruby

Julia and Jon quickly found a three-bed semi-detached house in Ash, near Sandwich, which they fell in love with and are currently hard at work turning it into their ideal home.

Now they have made it through the process, Julia had some advice for those looking to make the same leap onto the ladder: "If you think you might be able to afford it now, do it, because you never know what's around the corner."

Although the couple were lucky at the speed of which they found their home, others have been left frustrated.

The increased market activity has brought with it capacity issues, as some buyers have been forced to wait much longer than usual for mortgages to be agreed in principle.

Chris said: "We agreed a sale three weeks ago and took a call yesterday to book the survey - normally I'd have expected that call after 10 days, not three weeks.

Some buyers are having to wait much longer for the sale to go through
Some buyers are having to wait much longer for the sale to go through

"But more worryingly they've booked the survey for the first week of September, so the sale is already six weeks old and we haven't even had a survey."

The career-long estate agent said average sale time from point of offer to exchange before lockdown was 13 weeks but was now slipping to 17 weeks.

Other industry professionals expect further shifts in the market, as the effects of the pandemic leave more people than ever working from home.

Simon Greaves, managing director of Colebrook Sturrock, with eight branches including those in Sandwich, Elham, Hawkinge and Bridge, said Covid-19 is encouraging more people working in London to house-hunt closer to the coast instead.

He said: "They're not bound automatically to think: 'Ok, I've got to go to London for work, therefore I've got to go and find myself whatever I can in the suburbs of London.'

"We've seen a lot more London buyers looking in this area both for second homes and some who want to switch their lives around - they realise that instead of needing to be at work three or four days a week and having a pied-à-terre close to the coast, they can now turn it around and have a family home down here."

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