The current situation facing the world is genuinely unprecedented. No other word quite so fully encompasses the new landscape we are learning to navigate as a consequence of COVID-19.
Personal, social and business interactions have all been impacted, but not for the first time in history has social distancing become a requirement. Epidemics and pandemics have been with us for a very long time, the earliest currently recorded being 3000 BC and the most recent being 2009 (Swine Flu), but through each and everyone there has been a way forward, as people and businesses adapt.
“The sense of urgency was not restricted to any single group"
The severity of COVID-19 has been as startling as its impact and while much of the property sector has momentarily paused, Beauchamp Estates’ remains open – remotely – with our lettings team busy supporting both tenants and landlords through this challenging time. Whilst there are very few physical moves taking place, there are lots of other changes and activities taking place: we asked Lettings Manager Francesca Fox to talk us through the current market and key changes that are taking place:
“January and February are normally relatively quiet months for lettings, as people come back from breaks over the holidays and adjust to the start a new year. Not so this year, COVID-19 changed this as many people, landlords and tenants, recognised that events that had unfolded in other parts of the world would likely happen in the UK, with similar issues and restrictions being imposed. The speed with which COVID-19 spread in countries that were among the first to be impacted certainly created a sense of urgency.
“The sense of urgency was not restricted to any single group, with international and domestic clients equally sensing that change was afoot.
“International clients who know that they are likely to remain in the UK for at least the next six months and those that anticipated they would need a base in the UK in the coming 6-12 months, have been seeking to secure properties now. Equally, there are clients, international and domestic, who have been looking to secure larger properties for 3-6 months, both in London and outside: recognising that for any period of isolation they were likely to be larger than usual household and would benefit from more space and facilities. The closure of some private schools ahead of the formal ‘lock-down’ also impacted the decisions of some clients to either return to their home country early or to secure larger properties.
“Many clients have also increased their budgets, in recognition of the fact that summer vacations were unlikely to happen this year"
“Domestic clients have also read similar signals, with many also looking for properties with more space, better facilities and in quite a few instances large gardens and grounds, both in London and further afield in the UK. This has seen Beauchamp Estates take on an increasing number of larger properties outside London – not just in the home counties but in locations such as Cumbria and Lyme Regis.
“The fact that families/households have been spending more time together has definitely changed the priority of many clients’ search criteria.
“Many clients have also increased their budgets, in recognition of the fact that summer vacations were unlikely to happen this year, therefore why not secure a property that offers increased space, comfort and facilities for the next 6 months?”
“The current increased flexibility of some landlords has also brought enquiries forward"
“Many landlords, in sensing what may be approaching, have also been flexible on rental terms in order to avoid what may be a prolonged void period and in realising that access for viewings, particularly to apartments in larger developments, were likely to become more restricted than for those with private entrances and houses.
“Income from property for Landlords who may have seen other income streams contract has become more important for them, so they are taking a greater interest in performance.
“The current increased flexibility of some landlords has also brought enquiries forward: tenants looking beyond the current situation, knowing that they will need a property later this year, or early in 2021 are already starting their search, with a view to securing a property in a good location at a preferential price.
“While current restrictions and the fact that many support roles such as legal, inventory and cleaning have reduced staff due to furlough or isolation requirements, has brought the activity of the physical move to an almost all-time low. This has however caused changes in a number of other areas including increases in the number of instruction, expansion of areas covered and searches for property starting much earlier, which is hugely positive. Additionally, there have also been increases in disputes between landlords and tenants over rent, both in regard to the rate and in some instances payment, which has seen the importance of a professional, experienced lettings agent increase substantially – as they are key to helping to resolve these issue and where if at all possibly avoiding escalation to formal legal action. The ability to mediate diplomatically, understanding both sides’ perspective, has become an important skill.
“The area of the lettings market most greatly changed by COVID-19 has been the short lets market – traditionally dependent upon business travel and tourism: the latter particularly so in regard to Air BandB.
“Short let apartments attached to hotels are no longer able to function fully, as they are unable to access the hotel services which have been closed – usually a key part of the offer. Business travel and tourism are almost non-existent, leaving a big void in all short let properties, the full impact of this is yet to be felt. While some have tried to switch the property to longer lets, they are not all geared up for this type of tenant and in many cases may have made the move too late.”
“We are in uncharted territory, but there is progress, landlords need tenants and tenants need homes. The key is knowing clients’ (tenants and landlords) parameters and encouraging them to temper expectations at this exceptional time.”
Francesca Fox, Lettings Beauchamp Estates