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The COVID era Housing Market

by Lindsay Brown, Partner, Lawson and Thompson.

Dealing with property law for the past 17 years I have been a first-hand witness to the rollercoaster that is the property market. The housing price boom in 2006/2007, the crash in 2008 and the recession in the years that followed. But in 2020 a global pandemic had an effect on the housing market that I (and most people) did not expect.

Furlough, changes to the credit system which affected landlords and tenants alike, job losses, spending days, weeks and months indoors – all of which you assume would slow down the property market with people not able to envisage moving home or investing in a property during such an uncertain time.

However, low interest rates, a freeze on Stamp Duty for a large percentage of buyers and a touch of cabin-fever have all combined to encourage people in their millions to sell, buy, invest, lease and as many of my clients have said ‘just go for it’.

It is clear that demand has been outweighing supply for the best part of two years which has resulted in a rise in house prices and, at the initial stages of buying and selling, there has been a sense of urgency in agreeing a price between the buyers, sellers and estate agents. As sellers, clients want to make sure they are getting a fair price in this buoyant market and as buyers, clients want to make sure their offer will secure them a property before another buyer jumps in with a higher offer.

This sense of urgency also has fed into the way properties are marketed and handled by estate agents. In the past you could simply view a property if you made a request to the estate agent. Now, you are likely to be required to show proof you are proceedable by having cash in the bank, a mortgage offer agreed and any sale property is under offer so they know that if there is a chain it is ready to move quickly. The clock starts ticking to get the deal done and the pressure is now on.

All of these added pressures on buyers and sellers in this COVID era housing market can make an already stressful and daunting time seem impossible. Having a solicitor acting on your behalf who you can never get in touch with by email or telephone to clarify questions or queries you have, however simple, adds to this stress.

We all know of these faceless law firms where you speak to a different call handler each time and clients get no clear answers or updates. At Lawson and Thompson we are different. As a solicitor who has worked in property law for many years I have dealt with a lot of these faceless firms and been frustrated myself at the lack of communication. Therefore, I cannot put enough emphasis on the importance of clients instructing a firm who are at the other end of the telephone or email to deal with their queries whether big or small, complicated or simple.

I know that most firms have changed working practices; less face-to-face appointments with clients, more communication by email and telephone, and this does suit a lot of clients especially those who are vulnerable and still feel uncomfortable in visiting solicitor offices. The property market does work without as much contact between solicitor and client. However, clients still need to be confident that their legal representative will handle their matter quickly and efficiently to avoid extra hassle and stress. There is a lot to be said for a quick email or telephone call reassuring clients all is going to plan. This applies to clients who are first time buyers, experienced landlords, 5th time buyers/sellers…there needs to be a rapport between solicitor and client which a lot of firms do not offer, Lawson and Thompson being an exception to this rule.

This new era of the housing market has thrown up many challenges for clients and solicitors and a reliable, friendly and efficient legal representative is essential to reassure and to navigate clients, both new and existing, through this unprecedented time.

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