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Lifting the lockdown: A new way of buying and selling houses

Estate agents and clients moving to selective virtual viewings in Covid-19’s wake

Next week’s phase of lockdown easing will finally see the stalled property market get back to business. Buyers and sellers who have been stuck in a holding pattern since mid-March will from Monday resume marketing, viewing, valuing and surveying properties.

But the new guidelines for safely accessing properties and interacting with agents mean the property industry in 12 short weeks has changed dramatically.

The practical guidelines for property professionals (drafted by property industry representatives) returning to work are comprehensive but generally apply the kind of common sense we have become used to. (They appear in bullet-point form at the end of this article.)

A key difference is that potential buyers will now be required to view properties online first, and register details with agents to demonstrate they are serious about buying before crossing the threshold of any property.


Views will take a bit longer too as individual parties can only be brought through the property one at a time for a recommended 15-minute period

The days of the open house view with glossy brochures on the hall stand may well be numbered. While agents might lament the efficiency of getting 20 viewers in and out of a property in 45 minutes, online viewing means most of those viewers can be filtered out much earlier without ever setting foot inside.

Marian Finnegan, managing director of residential at Sherry FitzGerald, says the move to more virtual selling has brought a number of positives.

“Virtual viewings give potential purchasers an opportunity to review four or five houses in one afternoon with the agent guiding them through and refining the choice. Before lockdown this process would have been much more time-consuming and involved time off work potentially. Now by the time the client views properties in person the agent will be more in tune with their requirements.”

Funding questions

They will also be more in tune with that client's ability to finance a house purchase and this may take getting used to for buyers. "The qualifying criteria to view will be much stricter and the interrogation of people's funding will certainly be more invasive," says David Byrne managing director of Lisney.

“This is how it’s done in London where open views don’t exist. It will take getting used to for buyers. We are sensing a bit of pushback already on questions about mortgage funding etc. People are a bit affronted, it’s not in the Irish buying psyche to give out such information.”

But the benefits are obvious. Tyre-kickers and nosey neighbours will no longer waste valuable time, and sellers greatly reduce their exposure to infection – a very real concern especially among older vendors.

When arranging appointments with estate agents for views or valuations, individuals will need to indicate in advance whether they have returned recently from abroad or have had Covid-19 symptoms over the previous 14 days.

We do a lot of 'drive by' desktop valuations and they tend to be extremely accurate once you have an experienced valuer

Views will also take a bit longer too as individual parties can only be brought through the property one at a time for a recommended 15-minute period. With strict pre- and post-viewing Covid-19 measures now required, DNG chief executive Keith Lowe reckons views will run at 30-minute intervals.

After the viewing, parties are advised to hold distanced conversations with the agent outside the property. But Lowe says this is unlikely to be very confidential with neighbours all around and they are advising staff to follow up with a phone call afterwards.

The protocols on new homes schemes look to be even more stringent and certainly a buzzy Saturday morning with people coming and going through a showhouse launch will be a thing of the past.

A checklist cleaning log – similar to the ones in restaurant and bars – will have to be updated between viewings, and once weekly the property will get a professional clean. It may be the case that doors won’t be hung on smaller rooms like utilities and en suites to minimise touch points, and kitchen units will be left open.

Video valuations

Physical house valuations may be on the way out too. Coronavirus living has seen many of these conducted through online apps such as Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp etc where the owner provides a video walk-through of the house and chats live to the agent.

It turns out in many cases that a property’s Eircode is pretty much all an agent needs to view a house overhead and via street view and offer a valuation based on similar property sales locally. “We do a lot of ‘drive by’ desktop valuations and they tend to be extremely accurate once you have an experienced valuer,” says Lowe.

The shift to such online processes, though enforced, has delivered some dividends during lockdown and agents are optimistic.

Sherry FitzGerald has completed a number of sales that were launched during Covid-19 restrictions. A Ballsbridge mews promoted using the vendor’s own photos and video had three parties bidding and just went sale agreed, while a Rathmines duplex is now sale agreed and due to close next week following virtual viewings and online bidding.

Sellers fearing potential price drops may postpone their decision to sell, especially downsizers and cocooners who will temporarily shelve pre-Covid-19 plans

Lisney brought a house to market in an established development in Foxrock where a similar property nearby had sold prior to lockdown. It has just gone sale agreed for €25,000 over the asking price following a remote bidding and viewing process.

Aside from these occasional bright spots, little to nothing has sold since mid-March and the sector is expecting a lot of pent-up demand to unleash next week.

Property website published a survey this week indicating seven out of 10 prospective home buyers are still planning on buying a new property in the next year.

Market prices

There is also a general expectation that prices will drop, with 37 per cent believing they will come down by more than 10 per cent in the next 12 months. Six out of 10 respondents say next year will represent a good time to buy property.

Judging by the high level of inquiries being received over the past two months and requests for appointments, it looks as if it will be an extremely busy June and July for new home sales, says Hooke and MacDonald director David Cantwell.

“We have a very large volume of clients anxiously waiting for our doors to open on June 8th to allow physical access to the homes they have been viewing online,” says Marian Finnegan. “We have a healthy stock of several hundred properties to be launched in June. This is much needed as choice has become quite restricted in recent weeks, in particular.”

And it’s the availability of stock to buy that will be the challenge. In May there were 18 per cent fewer properties for sale in Dublin compared with last year, and on the new homes front the numbers expected to be built this year are likely to be closer to 15,000 than the envisaged 25,000 expected at the start of the year.

Meanwhile, sellers fearing potential price drops may postpone their decision to sell, especially downsizers and cocooners who will temporarily shelve pre-Covid-19 plans to move on given the market and coronavirus fears. These supply factors and continued Central Bank lending prudence could mitigate against any expectations of a bonanza for buyers.

Property viewing guidelines

  • Conduct an online viewing first
  • If interested make an appointment and submit details of parties attending
  • A maximum of two people per property viewing party and no children under-16
  • Viewers and vendors must indicate in advance whether they have returned recently from travel abroad or have had Covid-19 symptoms in the preceding 14 days
  • Receive digital property brochure before viewing
  • Wait at a distance from the property until called by agent and invited in
  • Time limit of about 15 minutes per viewing
  • Sanitisers and social distance markings will be on site, and PPE (masks, gloves) at viewers discretion. Can be made available
  • Agents will open doors and windows in advance. Doors and switches will be sanitised before and after viewings
  • Any discussions should take place outside the property
  • Vendors must ensure the property is vacant and agree touch points with the agent for regular sanitising
  • Showhouses will be professionally cleaned weekly