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New ways of thinking: NI's Guild members issue useful advice for property buyers and sellers at this time

Professional advice for homeowners and house hunters during the pandemic

NEW WAYS TO BUY AND SELL: Virtual property viewings are the new norm during this pandemic
Picture, Getty Images

The coronavirus crisis has affected every sector of our economy, and the housing market is so exception with sellers and buyers both having to adapt to this unprecedented change. 

In Northern Ireland there are over 25 Real Estate Agents that are approved Professional Guild Members - The Guild has over 800 approved Real Estate Agents throughout the UK. 

Members here have teamed up to offer professional and reassuring advice to sellers and buyers in Northern Ireland with some frequently asked questions and scenarios. 

SELLERS

1. Get your documents in order

Start by establishing where the deeds to the property are, says Art O’Hagan MD of CPS and regional director of The Guild. 

“Talk to the bank to try to locate them. This will avoid any pitfalls to closing the sale and getting contracts signed.

“If construction, electrical or gas works has been done to the house, you need to be able to provide certificates of compliance for said works.

“If these are not in your possession then chase the builder or architect for them.”

If you can’t find the documents then you’re going to need an architect, structural engineer or building surveyor to come view the works and, hopefully, sign off saying they comply. You will also need to get an up-to-date (EPC) Energy Performance certificate. 

2. Tackle the house

With so much time to examine the four walls of every room, many of us have already made mental lists of jobs that need doing. You can make a start by de-cluttering every room and surface, spring cleaning the house and repainting walls, ceilings and woodwork said Edwina Flynn from Best Property Services in Newry.

“Cull, cull, cull”, is Edwina’s mantra.

She suggests: “Go through each room, one at a time, and clear out drawers, wardrobes and presses so that when you move you will have already discarded all your rubbish. Make a pile for charity shops, one for recycling and one for the bin.

“Wash windows and make sure blinds or curtains are hanging correctly. If not, take them down.” 

3. Spruce up the garden

Now, more than ever, the garden is a major selling point says Nick White from Hunter Campbell.

He explains: “People have realised the value of an outside space, however small.”

“Incentivise children to help with the jobs. Weed flower beds, rake up leaves, trim hedges, prune trees and power wash fencing, boundary walls, patios and drives and even the exterior of the house. 

“If you don’t own a power washer, you can buy online or ask that nice neighbour if you could borrow theirs. Many of the garden centres are shut but some, are selling online and doing home deliveries. 

“And it’s still possible to order a skip. Recycling skip hire companies has seen a 35 per cent spike in its online skip orders, and a 42 per cent increase in phone orders in the last month. Just don’t fill with hazardous waste such as paints, fridges, fridge-freezers or food waste.” 

4. Create a To Do List 

Fiona Cupples of Homes Independent suggests that as you declutter both house and garden, compile a snag list of all the jobs that need professional attention, like painting the exterior, doing the gutters and sweeping the chimney. Start ringing around and booking these in now. This will put you at the top of the queue once restrictions lift and allow you to reschedule if the restrictions extend beyond the deadlines currently set. 

5. Get the house close-up ready

While agents can’t arrange photography or videography under the current lockdown, it is worth noting that all larger agents are offering virtual viewings - a method that shows the property in a more real condition than much of the still photography we’re more used to looking at. Still shots can introduce light and Photoshop out minor flaws, such as telephone cables, electricity wires etc, making rooms more visually appealing.

John Minnis explains: “With virtual viewing there is no hiding.

“You have to show everything from inside the hot press to other storage spaces and all bedrooms, so all beds have to be dressed whereas in stills photography, we might only photograph the best of the accommodation.”

During the period from March 15 - when schools closed - to April 23, the Guild Network in NI has had in excess of 600 parties attending private and open virtual viewings and received 138 offers on properties. The most successful have been virtual viewings and Mr Minnis adds: “Additional background information is still what home owners are looking for during this period which we offer at all times.” 

BUYERS

6. Check your mortgage eligibility

If you have an income you can apply for a mortgage, explains Eoin O’Hagan of CPS Financial Services. 

He adds: “Your income level will dictate lending. Lenders are lending but applying for a loan has an extra layer of observation of income levels such as payslips or a letter/email from your employer that income hasn’t been affected by coronavirus or if it has how it has been affected and for how long.”

If a mortgage is about to be issued, lenders will want to see the same confirmation of ability to make repayments.

If you’re in a job that is as protected as it can be, Mr O’Hagan says it makes sense to use this time to find out how much you can borrow and see if you can get mortgage approval. He adds it normally takes about four weeks for those completing mortgage applications to get all the necessary documentation together. However under the lockdown, he has seen “this period halved to a fortnight”.

“Underwriting the self-employed is less straightforward. The sector that you work in will come into play and how your earnings have been affected will also impact the decision-making process,” Mr O’Hagan says.

“There are buyers out there, with agents citing an increase in registered buyers since the lockdown came into effect.” 

7. Sorting life assurance during Covid-19

How will the virus affect your ability to get life assurance (mortgage protection insurance required in the event of an untimely death)?

“Some life assurance companies are now asking would-be clients if they have had symptoms of Covid-19 or have had coronavirus, with some companies deferring underwriting for three months,” says Eric Ruddell, T L Graham & Son Newcastle - a personal financial planning firm that deals with life assurance policies that relate to mortgages. 

Mr Ruddell adds: “If you can’t get a life assurance policy, it means you can’t draw down a mortgage.” 

8. Is it possible to get a deal over the line?

Yes, but expect delays. Conveyancing is not an essential service but is still happening. The stumbling block is “land registry” which is, at the time of writing, closed. Members are waiting on more information from this department, via the Law Society, regarding how it proposes to make this an efficient service again, even remotely during these times

Daniel Henry adds: “We all are open for business but generally working remotely but delivering every bit as effectively. Documents rarely need a wet signature, this service for leases we have all digitally operational for the past 12 months.

“We have clients coming to the office but observing social distance for handover of keys.

9. Can we pay our rent or an outstanding invoice during these times?

Electronic payments are available, speak to your local Guild Approved Agent for their own specific direction. Call their landline directly.

10. Watch stock levels

Keep abreast of what is coming to the market. “Stock levels remain low but there will always be parties that need to buy or sell,” says Mark Brennen from Mc Afee properties. 

“Some motivated vendors, such as those of some executor sales that have been in the pipeline, may be willing to take a lower price for a cash buyer or someone with proof of funds.” 

Funds, that is, that will adhere to the new, more stringent Covid-19 requirements. 

The Guild Network have seven new developments about to be launched, please register with your local agent for updates. 

11. Any deals to be had?

People who don’t have to sell won’t - and most vendors don’t have to sell says Julie McCrory of Kingham Property Specialists. 

“I am anticipating a continuation of strong demand for property as there was before lockdown and I do not expect any panic sellers as we return to the market unless lenders change the goal posts.”

In the meantime, she anticipates that buyers will be extremely cautious and may not find deals to be had. 

“There may be a window of opportunity over the next six to nine months in certain circumstances but we feel this will be minimal,” adds Ms McCrory.

“Buyers and sellers looking to trade up or down should keep in regular contact with their in-house mortgage broker to make sure that they still have the funds originally available to them.”

Members agree that property once again is more stable than the stock market and a better yield return than deposits investments in banks and building societies.

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