Sales of almost 400,000 homes stalled due to lockdown, says Zoopla

Almost 400,000 home sales worth a total of £82bn have been put on hold as a result of the housing market lockdown, according to Zoopla.

The property website said that 373,000 sales had stalled since the end of March when ministers told people to delay their home moves if possible, and social distancing rules made valuations and viewings impossible.

The majority of these sales were agreed between November 2019 and February 2020, and would have been expected to complete between April and June.

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Zoopla said the market was “in suspended animation” with those sales – which may still complete later in the year – along with others agreed based on viewings that took place before 26 March, being placed on pause.

Since that time, the website said demand from new buyers had fallen by 70%. As a result, it expected the number of sales over the course of the year to be just half of 2019’s figure.

This is a steeper fall than that forecast by the property firm Knight Frank, which has suggested completions will drop from 1.17m last year to just 734,000 this year.

Zoopla said the number of new sales agreed was running at about a 10th of the level achieved in early March, “with volumes similar to what you would expect to see in late December”, when the market is traditionally quieter.

Those who are still making offers may be tempted by low mortgage rates and a lack of competition from other buyers.

Last week, Zoopla’s rival Rightmove said buyers were making offers based on virtual viewings of properties, and builders have reported sales being agreed despite marketing suites remaining closed.

The delay in completions means estate agents will have to wait longer for their commission. Zoopla estimated that commission payments on the 373,000 stalled sales added up to £1bn.

Despite the economic upheaval caused by the pandemic, there is little sign that people are being forced to pull out of purchases.

Zoopla said the rate of sales falling through had peaked on 23 March, but the outlook “depends upon how long the restrictions remain in place, the scale of the economic impact, and how this impacts would-be buyers and their ability to proceed with sales”.

Knight Frank said that four in five purchases were still going ahead and that newly agreed sales were not attracting big discounts. Before lockdown, agreed prices were on average 97% of asking price and that had since dropped to 93%.

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Richard Donnell, the director of research at Zoopla, said: “Many households have spent more time at home in the last few weeks and some may feel the urge to move and find more space or consider the potential for remote working.

“This could boost activity in the second half of 2020, but this all depends upon how much the economy is impacted over the rest of the year and the impact on levels of unemployment.”

Donnell said it was too early to see what impact the crisis would have on prices. “Demand is rising but there is a long way to go until we see a return to typical levels of market activity.”

We had hoped to move in summer’

Jennifer Boon and her husband are among those who have been forced to put their moving plans on ice. “We live in a two-bedroom flat and we’ve got a baby so we needed more room and somewhere a bit more residential to live.

“In early March, we accepted an offer on our flat and had an offer accepted on a house in Finchley. The chain wasn’t complete – our sellers have still to find somewhere – but we had hoped to move in the summer. We’ve had our valuation done – it must have been one of the last ones that did get done – and the legal work has started, but it’s on pause.

“We plan to go ahead still, and as far as we know our buyers are still interested. It is quite hard at the moment. I’m on maternity leave but I will be swapping with my husband and whoever is looking after the baby is effectively in her bedroom with her all day. It would be easier in our new house.”

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