Over the past 15 months, the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted the property market in unimaginable ways.
It experienced the polar extremes of a total seven-week freeze on all activity from 23 March to 13 May last year and a subsequent buying frenzy as those looking to purchase new homes took advantage of a stamp duty holiday, announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak on 8 July 2020.
(The tax exemption in England and Northern Ireland, which currently applies to the first £500,000 of any residential property transaction, will apply to the first £250,000 from 1 July to 30 September and return to £125,000 thereafter. The equivalent holiday in Wales will come to an end on 30 June, while the Scottish version ended on 31 March this year.)
This is not to mention the impact of the pandemic and the social restrictions, put in place to combat Covid-19, on workers and their finances.
We look at how the market has fared for buyers and renters, through two personal accounts.
It took nine months but we moved into our dream home
Due to an unexpected probate issue and the impact of Covid-19 slowing down the purchasing process, first-time buyers Courtney Alexander-Grant and Lanre Azeez ended up moving into their new home in Bexley in August 2020, 10 months after their offer of £280,000 was accepted, a process they have since recounted on their social media.
“Everything was great until December (2019). Every day we were given updates and it just stopped - bluntly stopped,” Alexander-Grant tells us.
“We thought let’s just chill - we don’t really mind not moving in now. We’re both in our parents’ houses and we’re not being forced out. I think it was in January that we thought what is happening? Something’s wrong.”
The couple chased their solicitors who told them the problem lay with the seller’s solicitors. When the pandemic struck, they thought the sale would fall through.
“Our mortgage was expiring in March. Because of Covid-19 the lenders were a bit more lenient and extended the offer for three more months.Meanwhile, we found out that what was holding up the process was a probate - our seller didn’t have a probate in place. When our seller asked their solicitor how long it was going to take, they said 6 to 8 weeks.
“We nearly cried because 6 to 8 weeks would have taken us past the deadline on our mortgage offer - we would have lost the house.
“Apparently, the seller put in a complaint about their lawyers, so their lawyers started getting the ball moving.”
“The seller’s solicitor went missing during COVID, I think because some of them must have been on furlough - they didn’t have anyone on the phone lines. Our solicitors were working but the other side’s weren’t - that really impacted us," says Azeez.
“I think it was May - we had about two and a half or three weeks left of the extended mortgage offer and then things just happened in about a week,” says Azeez.
Although the couple were only allowed to move into their new home in August, after exchanging keys months before, they were able to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday that had been introduced in July 2020 and pay nothing in stamp duty.
We were evicted as rents started to fall
Sandra Gwiazda, 23, student and e-commerce business owner and Stephen Hoang, 29, account director, digital marketing company
When Gwiazda and Hoang were served an eviction notice they found the rent on the property they had had their eye on had been lowered.
“I’m currently living in Canary Wharf and I moved here in May this year – not long after the pandemic had started,” says Gwiazda.
The couple were planning on moving before the global health crisis, but when it struck, put their plans on hold. It was at this time that Gwiazda says their landlord could no longer afford the flat he was renting to them.
“He wasn’t getting enough tenants for a few different properties,”she says.
“He had to give up a few properties he was renting to people because he couldn’t afford them - that’s what I understood - the tenants from his flats were moving back to their own countries.
“One tenant already had the coronavirus so he didn’t want to risk moving anybody else into this flat. It’s good to hear landlords are thinking about tenants and are not just worried about getting money from people.
"I think he gave us an eviction notice of around a month. To be honest it was enough time for us to search for something so it wasn’t a big problem. I think he was considerate of this fact.
“So we started looking again and it turned out that the prices were actually better – it wasn’t as bad as we thought it was going to be, especially during the pandemic.
“We were looking for something around the same budget we were paying before. All of the flats in this area had a similar price.”
The couple are currently paying around £2,000 a month including bills for their one-bedroom apartment in Canary Wharf.
“I think the price was £100 cheaper per month than it was before,” says Gwiazda.