Clare Hallett is Partner in Frettens’ Residential Conveyancing Partner. With years of experience in both residential and commercial property, she’s seen a lot of ups and downs.
Here, she provides her thoughts on the local property market, how it has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and how businesses are dealing with the challenges they face.
How has the local property market been affected by the coronavirus pandemic?
The first quarter of this year was one of our busiest in a long time. February and March in the residential property market were especially busy, and it seemed as though the market was really picking up speed. The removal of some of the uncertainty around Brexit seemed to be helping.
The impact of coronavirus lockdown
When the coronavirus lock down hit towards the end of March, new instructions fell off a cliff and any matters in chains simply stalled.
The local property market ground to a halt, as people couldn’t move. At the start of April, we had hundreds of clients ‘in the pipeline’, with only a small number able to move.
We prioritised those with nothing to sell, new build purchases and sales of vacant properties continued, but still faced plenty of obstacles.
Working with the local law society
Our local law society tried very hard to assist by preparing a covid contract clause but the pace with which things changed and the dramatic reduction in work was completely beyond my expectation and unlike anything that I have seen in my career.
We got deals through in April and May and though the numbers were significantly down on what we would usually see they were still greater than I and my colleagues expected.
Helping people move home during coronavirus
We were in the process of making the move ‘into the cloud’ before lockdown, and completed the process in April. Our IT team and our new supplier were fantastic and the whole switch over went really smoothly.
The new setup allows all of our team to work from home seamlessly, which was a huge help during lockdown, affording us flexibility and enabling us to work safely.
We were able to stay in touch with all of our clients whose moves were paused, and keep the process moving, so we were ready for when lockdown ended.
The government furlough scheme really helped.
We have a large property team and deal with a lot of home moves, with the decrease in work, we furloughed a number of our team, ensuring we had enough lawyers left to deal with the ongoing matters.
The majority of our team are now back to work. The recovery has been much quicker than I had anticipated and things are moving really quickly, which is great. It was lovely to call members of my team and ask them to come back to work as we needed them.
I will have my entire team back in place by 1st July which surpassed my expectations and is in no small part due to the sheer hard work and determination of those that weren’t furloughed and who have worked night and day to keep things moving until the numbers picked up and we were able to justify bringing people back.
Are we beginning to see a recovery in the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole property market?
In the first two weeks of June, we’ve had almost as many new instructions as we would have in a busy month. Rightmove has reported record numbers of searches.
We have been able to bring back almost all of our team from furlough in the last three weeks. The speed at which the market has started recovering has been incredible.
Our lawyers are dealing with estate agents all day, and the message we are hearing consistently is that they are really busy.
Why do you think the local property market has seen this bump?
I think there was a lot of ‘pent up demand’. People who were ready to buy or sell, and would have done in April and May, had the country not been locked down.
Historically, the lockdown also coincided with the months that we would usually expect to see more people moving and they all had to stay put. Agents were providing virtual viewings and some deals were being tied up but pretty much everything else was on ice!
I also believe a lot of people, having spent a prolonged period of time at home, have decided they want to upgrade.
While on lockdown, people will have had the time to sort finances and get themselves ready to move.
Finally, as I’ve heard this from a lot of new clients, people’s lifestyles are changing. As more people work from home, they will need more space to do so. Gardens and access to outside space has also become much more important.
Many of our team will be working from home long-term, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we take care of a few of our own team’s home moves in coming months as a result.
Will the property market keep growing long-term? Or will this bump be short-lived?
I unfortunately don’t have a crystal ball, so don’t know for sure how long this will last.
As the government’s economic support for businesses and individuals are gradually removed, I would be surprised if we don’t see some sort of slowing, however I sincerely hope the current trend continues.
The property market in Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch has historically existed in a bit of a bubble, slightly sheltered from the effects of the wider economy, although any sustained impact on the jobs market will inevitably impact on the local property market.
What challenges is the property market facing in coming months?
Moving people safely is the top priority. We have issued guidance to all our clients, and the estate agents we work with on how to move safely during the coronavirus pandemic. We will continue to review this and share it in line with changing government guidance.
With the prospect of subsequent spikes in virus numbers we will continue to ascertain risk and where necessary advise clients to consider including contractual clauses to try and mitigate this risk
The pandemic forced us to look at certain procedures and see how we could streamline these. We have streamlined our ID procedures and looked at how technology can assist with this.
We are focusing on ensuring those whose moves have been held up are exchanged and completed as quickly as possible and we have ensured that we have enough lawyers and support staff on hand to deal with all existing matters, as well as the influx of quotations and new instructions.
Julia Gaunt, an experienced conveyancer, joined our team in Ringwood in April to ensure this is the case.
Conveyancing is a process that involves lots of interdependent parties. Communication is key if the process is to run smoothly. Having great relationships with our clients, local estate agents, stakeholders and other solicitors is even more valuable as the process copes with this increased demand.
I also firmly believe that embracing technology is vital. The pandemic has highlighted the antiquated nature of the process and the rigid requirements of having wet signatures and witnesses all of which was quite a challenge during the height of the lock down. I sincerely hope that the pace of change in this area will be accelerated whilst at the same time ensuring that security is maintained.
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