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March 2020

The housing market picked up in February, reported Halifax, but even then coronavirus loomed on the horizon. Jeremy Leaf, principal of Jeremy Leaf & Co, told This is Money: ‘If anything, these figures show that house-price growth is slowing slightly as the previous month’s increase has been reined in by concerns about affordability, the wider economic picture and how the Budget is likely to impact on these. Of course, it is too early to say if the recent improvement in activity will be compromised by a fall in confidence caused by the virus. On the ground, the market remains price sensitive with still too few listings but we are not finding properties being withdrawn with most buyers and sellers taking the view the worst effects will pass sooner rather than later.’

The Chancellor of the Exchequer used the Budget to help victims of coronavirus so it perhaps wasn’t surprising that there wasn’t any assistance for first-time buyers. Jeremy Leaf told The Sun: ‘Apart from the 2 per cent surcharge on non-UK property buyers from next year, there was no action on stamp duty. An opportunity was missed to improve accessibility to the market for first-time buyers and downsizers who are causing a log jam at the top and bottom of the market.’ He expanded further in The Mirror: ‘Reforming stamp duty would have improved activity, which is good for the whole economy. Clearly, housing is not up there in terms of priorities for the chancellor at the present time.'

The debate then shifted to coronavirus and its likely impact on the property market. In early March, Jeremy Leaf told The Guardian: ‘Our offices have only seen a few cancelled sales and listing instructions so far.’ He expanded in The Financial Times, commenting that viewings at his offices ‘are down significantly as buyers and sellers pause to see what ‘temporary impact’ is likely to mean for their moving plans.’ He added in The Daily Express: ‘It doesn’t necessarily mean that buyers are sellers are not getting on with moving. For instance, we managed to secure four exchanges of contract on Thursday and Friday of last week. All parties asked the ‘what if’ question about completion, but all decided to proceed, nonetheless.'

As the month progressed, and the government banned viewings, activity in the housing market naturally started to slow. Jeremy Leaf told The Sunday Times that he believed that most people would rather ‘hang in there’ once they’ve decided to move, and the property industry is doing the same. ‘Of course we can’t arrange viewings at the moment,’ he says. ‘We are just keeping everything in check and hopefully it won’t be too much longer.’ Jeremy Leaf told The Daily Mail that the Government shutdown of the property market was unheard of: ‘It’s going to put a lot of people’s lives on hold. From our perspective, we just hope everyone presses the pause button rather than the stop button.'

How will coronavirus change the way we buy property? Jeremy Leaf told The Daily Telegraph: ’Everyone is going to do a lot more groundwork and investigation before they list a property.’ He added that technology could be quite helpful: 'A couple who were recently buying a new build sent a video to both of their parents in India for their approval.’