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Covid-19 predicted to cause leap in demand for UK homes with gardens

Survey shows housing market remains depressed with sales and prices falling in May

Woman walking past estate agency

The vast majority of surveyors and estate agents say homes with gardens or balconies will be in demand over the next two years, along with houses near green spaces. Photograph: Hannah McKay/EPA

Britain’s housing market remains depressed despite a pick-up in enquiries from people looking to buy, but estate agents are expecting a sharp increase in demand for homes with gardens over the next two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite estate agents being allowed to reopen in England on 13 May following an eight-week shutdown, sales and house prices continued to fall across the UK in May, according to a monthly survey of surveyors and estate agents from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics).

A balance of 35% estate agents said newly-agreed sales were down. The balance deducts the number of agents who said sales rose from those who said sales fell.

As the housing market in England started to get going again, enquiries from new buyers picked up markedly but remained in negative territory. A balance of 5% of estate agents reported lower enquiries in May, compared with a record number of 94% in April.

Near-term sales expectations were flat in May, while the majority of agents are now expecting slightly higher sales over the next 12 months.

Michael Darwin, a chartered surveyor in Northallerton, in North Yorkshire, said: “The last three months are the strangest I have known in 39 years. There are enquiries, but can people obtain finance to buy, whose jobs are safe and how long will the danger of Covid continue? If anyone has answers they are keeping very quiet.”

The Rics measure of house prices moved deeper into negative territory. A balance of 32% of estate agents reported lower prices compared with 22% in April, marking the weakest figure since 2010. Even looking 12 months ahead, a balance of 16% of agents are expecting prices to fall.

This echoes surveys from mortgage lenders Nationwide and Halifax that showed house prices fell further last month.

Rics said there were no major changes in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales where restrictions on estate agents were not removed in May.

The vast majority of surveyors and estate agents (81%) say homes with gardens or balconies will be in demand over the next two years, along with houses near green spaces, and 68% reckon that properties with greater private and less communal space will become more desirable. Tower blocks and properties in crowded urban areas are expected to be less in demand.

Simon Rubinsohn, Rics chief economist, said: “Following the reopening of the housing market in England, pre-Covid sales that were in the pipeline are now largely going through. This is encouraging but it remains to be seen how sustained this improvement will prove.

“Much will inevitably depend on the macro environment and, in particular, the resilience of the jobs market as the furlough scheme unwinds. For the time being respondents to the survey see the trend in transactions being broadly flat.”

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