It felt like the chains had been unshackled, as I stepped out of my car, in bright sunshine, at one of Magnet Capital’s development sites last Monday morning. For the first time in over eleven weeks, I was able to do what I enjoy most; visit our projects, see how they have progressed and chat with our developers and their team.
Except it wasn’t normal, I was sweltering in a mask and gloves, despite being on an open-air site, with the two bungalows at wall plate stage. I took my position a good two metres away from the developer, whilst the rest of his team were mostly at home, except for two labourers distancing in a corner of the site. Despite all this, the client was delighted to be back on site having lost a good six weeks due to lockdown, closed suppliers and scarcity of labourers. Thankfully roof trusses and windows were soon to be delivered, so that the site could continue with no delays. Roof tiles from Spain were causing an issue but he had a work around and frankly he is one of the lucky ones.
Across our extensive range of development sites at Magnet Capital, we have heard of difficulties for developers in getting bricks, block and beams and specifically those building materials, which require bespoke factory settings, such as windows and roof trusses. Factories are starting to open up but there is a backlog of orders. To comply with social distancing developers are faced with having only a skeleton crew on sites, which will be magnified when the properties are watertight and are working on internals. Hand sanitiser, cleaning of surfaces, face masks will all be necessary. Delays and rising costs are a reality for all our developers. As a development finance lender we have to be realistic that our clients projects will overrun their loan period and we need to help them either to extend their loans or source developer exit products.
The new normal is also opaque as to what will happen to the property market in terms of house prices and the mechanics of selling new build properties. There will undoubtedly be far-reaching economic ramifications but at the moment there is plenty of pent up demand. The Government’s lockdown measures resulted in an estimated £82 billion of house purchases placed on hold. Some early indications suggest that the market is springing back into life, with Rightmove stating 40,000 new sales having been agreed since 13 May and it saw its ten busiest days ever in May and June.
We are all going to be spending more time in our homes and spacious properties with gardens and nice views should be in demand, whereas flats in high rise blocks, requiring lifts and in urban areas with little outdoor space, might struggle. This could be accentuated by people increasingly working from home, with less need to be in urban areas, close to their place of work. The commute will become less of a burden on the psyche and the pocket, if people are working from home a couple of days a week, meaning that more living space, further out of the city centre, becomes much more desirable.
Agents will need to find ways to cleverly market their properties, offering virtual imaging cameras to create accurate floor plans and 3D simulations of properties, or filming short video tours inside. Potentially the new build market will outperform the second hand market, as the risks are lower visiting a vacant rather than occupied dwelling. The mechanics of buying and selling is further complicated by the difficulty in the current climate of getting valuations, surveys, searches, and dealing with the Land Registry. Sellers need to get all their paperwork ready and buyers need to ensure that they have a decent solicitor that is not stymied by working from home and surveyors that are willing and able to attend the property.
Last week felt like the mist was lifting and a sense of normality is returning, However, all we can do is take each day as it comes, as looking too far into the future of the property market is unwise in the best of times and especially in current times.