The housing market has re-opened and in the first two weeks since restrictions were eased, we have seen growing numbers of enquiries from renters looking to move home. Of course, the rental market we are seeing now is very different to how it was pre-lockdown. There is a lot of housing stock coming onto the market at the moment. In part this is due to Airbnb owners with empty properties looking to find long-term tenants for their properties, as tourism has ground to a halt. Many students have vacated their properties and returned home, while some professionals have had to leave their rental properties because they have been made redundant or furloughed and are unable to pay the rent. That’s the bad news. But there is a positive side.
We are again starting to find new homes for professionals who are looking to upgrade or move somewhere bigger at the end of their current lease because they are now working from home, perhaps indefinitely. Working from home may be the new normal for many, at least for some of the time, so a dedicated work space or additional bedroom may become a ‘must have’. The Covid-19 lockdown has also seen renters re-assess their priorities and as well as desire more internal space, many are looking for a home with outside space such as a balcony or patio.
So rental demand is steadily returning but of course, this is a very challenging environment for all of us. Our lettings teams, including our directors, remain mainly based at home and are working extremely hard for landlords and tenants at all stages of the letting process, examining each transaction on a case by case basis and liaising between both parties if there is any disagreement to reach a satisfactory outcome. This could be when negotiating a new tenancy agreement, renewing an existing lease, assessing a tenant’s ability to pay their current rent or surrendering a lease.
Virtual viewings were already increasing in popularity pre-lockdown but now they have come into their own and are an essential part of our service for applicants. Applicants are now viewing properties online initially, before seeing the property first hand, reducing the number of properties they see in person. Some have even signed a new tenancy agreement simply on the basis of a virtual tour. And we expect this trend to continue, even when life returns to ‘normal’.
Each of our 16 London lettings branches now has a member of the lettings team conducting viewings in person, where necessary. All our staff are, of course, following strict guidelines including maintaining a two metre distance, washing hands regularly and minimising contact with anything in the property, including door handles. They wear a face mask and are spending as little time inside the property as possible. For more information on current government guidance, go to: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/housing-secretary-sets-out-plan-to-re-start-housing-market
Demand for good quality rental homes started to pick up again as soon as the housing market re-opened although demand is clearly nowhere near pre-lockdown levels. But it might be interesting to look at just a few of the transactions that have completed already. For example, in the first two weeks since the housing market re-opened, our Hammersmith/Fulham Reach branch concluded a couple of new tenancies. The first was for a two bed apartment at Distillery Wharf at £825 per week – a thirty six month tenancy with a twelve month break clause. The couple moved in two weeks after their offer was agreed.
At nearby Faulkner House another tenant moved into a one bed flat at a rent of £525 per week, moving in immediately, which meant the landlord experienced no void period at all.
Meanwhile, our Nine Elms branch immediately concluded three deals, with tenants planning to move into new apartments in June. The branch also received two new instructions as soon as the lockdown rules were relaxed while a further six tenants are currently in the process of being referenced or moving in to new rental homes.
Also, during the first two weeks, our Knightsbridge branch commenced viewings again, with 10 tenancies being agreed and references now underway for tenants. Our Highgate branch concluded a new tenancy for a large, family home while at Beaufort Park, three properties were let within days.
Of course, this is just a snapshot of what has been happening at several of our branches in the immediate post-lockdown phase but it is a clear indicator that rental demand is starting to increase and that, where possible, tenants are again starting to work out how they can resume their normal lives.
And an interesting trend we’ve already noticed is that many applicants are looking to agree longer tenancies than previously. Many of the properties we’ve mentioned have been rented for two or even three years (with break clauses) indicating that tenants are looking for stability in these uncertain times. So, there are plenty of good news stories around for landlords and we remain committed to keep London moving.
The property sales market in London is also seeing a surge in enquiries from investors and we’re finding our webinars to be a real help, allowing us to keep in touch and update our clients with the latest news. Our clients recognise that property investment in London is very much a long-term proposition so this period of volatility could represent an excellent time to buy property in London. Of course, many investors are simply making enquiries at this stage but they are doing their research, determining what type of property they wish to buy in terms of size, location and price and using this time to prepare and find themselves a good deal before the property market starts to strengthen again.
We’ve had a tremendous response to our new webinars too, with several hundred investors attending each one. They’ve allowed us to answer investment related questions about the current situation and give up-to-the-minute advice on current opportunities as they happen. This could be on any subject from which new developments are planning to launch; schemes which are offering the best discounts; maximising their existing investments through to re-mortgaging or refurbishment for maintaining the value of their properties. We’ve had great feedback from clients and some new rental property instructions too which has been good to see. Our webinars are free so to sign up for our upcoming events, visit our webinars page.
We have remained open throughout this crisis, albeit in a different capacity, and we believe clients recognise our commitment to maintaining as comprehensive a service as possible. While our teams are still working from home most of the time, most are nearby our branch locations and you can contact any one of us in the usual way, and we are here, ready to respond.
View all posts by Anita Mehra