'A year like no other': how the Norfolk property market has thrived in 2020
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During the first nationwide lockdown in March this year, few could have predicted that the UK property market would experience such a boom.
The stamp duty holiday has certainly helped, as has so many people re-evaluating their needs - whether that means they want to escape the city in favour of the country, move closer to family or just need a bit more space now that WFH has become the norm.
But how have local agents coped with the changes – from new Covid restrictions to a surge in demand? We spoke to members of the Norwich & District Association of Estate Agents to get their views on 2020 – and their predictions for the year ahead.
Jan Hÿtch, Arnolds Keys
“2020 has been a year like no other, with the pandemic resulting in some horrible news. The most serious is of course those who have lost loved ones to Covid, or who have fallen ill and suffered. But even for those who have not directly come into contact with the virus, its effects have been widely felt, from enduring the isolation of lockdown to businesses struggling and failing as a result.
“Despite all of this, the property market has proven remarkably resilient. Rightmove statistics show that sales in the year to October were up 72pc in the East of England despite a dip in activity during the first lockdown and a very short dip at the start of lockdown #2.0 (until people realised the housing market was still operating).
“The stamp duty reduction has been a factor, but not an over-riding one. Much more important has been the realisation of the attraction of living in a home with the space to work, and to hunker down if necessary. A year spent largely at home has focussed everyone’s minds on being in the right home for them.
“We have had to learn to operate safely in the context of social distancing. Virtual viewings have become a feature, and this is something that is likely to continue even once the pandemic has died down. But we are all looking forward to being able to conduct viewings without gloves, masks, antibac spray and wipes.
“Although the conveyancing process has been a little slower than usual, and occasionally affected by factors such as one party having to self-isolate, the good news is that the housing market is open and operating whatever tier you are in, and everyone is free to move home as long as they are not isolating or in quarantine.
“The rental market has remained buoyant, with strong demand, and we are pleased that the concern about a rent arrears crisis has largely been unfounded – although we can’t be complacent, as the end of the furlough scheme in March could lead to a wave of redundancies.
“We look to 2021 with cautious optimism. The coming of mass vaccination, together with the motivations for people wanting to move (seeking the perfect home, improved quality of life, reduced outgoings, using technology to manage their work/life balance), suggest that 2021 will again be a positive year for the market, if perhaps a little less frantic than 2020.
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"Once the vaccine is more widely available, the joy and excitement of the process of house buying and selling will return – something we are all looking forward to.”
Nick Taylor, Hadley Taylor
“2020 is a year we will all want to forget and put behind us as quickly as possible. However, the property market has fared better than we could ever have hoped for, given the pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis.
“We have sold more properties than in the previous year thanks, in part, to the stamp duty holiday, although the second lockdown has put the damper on the tail end of the year.
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“Adapting to COVID restrictions has been fairly straight forward. We just take the necessary precautions and observe social distancing. Some elderly buyers and sellers have been more reluctant to participate in valuations and viewings but this is to be expected.
“I think 2021 will be a strong year for activity from buyers and sellers because there is a lot of pent up demand and clients won’t want to put their lives on hold indefinitely.
“As for house prices, I expect values to be stable with a slight wobble after the stamp duty holiday comes to an end on March 31.
“Despite being in a recession, I expect the medium-term outlook for property prices to keep rising in line with population growth.”
Louis de Soissons, Savills
“Against all expectations it has been an exceptionally busy year. While the stamp duty holiday has certainly helped to bring forward some purchases that may otherwise have happened in a few years’ time the market was already strong as we emerged from lockdown.
“The pandemic encouraged people to think more about the space they live in and the attributes they most value in a home. As a result there was a huge amount of pent up demand and a clear determination from buyers that is still very much in evidence.
“Lifestyle relocation has been a big theme and people have reassessed their work-life balance. Country homes in particular have commanded the greatest interest – especially in North Norfolk – but we have seen strong activity across the county, including homes in Norwich and well-connected towns and villages.
“Now more than ever buyers want somewhere with greater space, a large garden and easy access to the countryside. Norfolk of course has this in abundance and property represents very good value for money when compared to other areas of the UK such as London and the Home Counties.
“If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that we never quite know what’s around the corner, but I think the outlook for next year is encouraging. There’s been a fundamental shift in people’s attitudes and employers now realise that their employees can work effectively from home – spending just two or three days in the office.
“Consequently the daily commute is now less of a burden and buyers are casting their nets further afield. I think that’s unlikely to change. Indeed, the most recent lockdown – rather than cause a pause in the market – appears to have only reaffirmed people’s desire to move, particularly if they have one eye on beating the stamp duty deadline of March 31.”