Can I move home during lockdown? What do I need to know about buying a new house right now? Will I be able to find and rent a new property in time for Christmas? Here’s everything renters and buyers need to know about moving home before Christmas in the pandemic.
The rules around renting and buying properties have been in flux since we first went into lockdown back in March. From Zoom flat viewings to delayed exchanges on new houses, it’s not exactly been the best year to move home. And now that we’re in the midst of another lockdown, anyone who’s hoping to secure a new home by the end of the year probably has a lot of questions. So let’s take a look at them…
What are the government guidelines around moving house during lockdown?
The main thing to know is that the government guidelines state the housing market in England will remain open during the current period of national restrictions. This means that people looking to move home will be able to both continue with planned moves and view new properties to move into in future. Estate and lettings agents, removers, valuers and people in sales and lettings offices and show homes will be able to continue working.
What do I need to do when viewing a property?
During property viewings, everybody involved should adhere to social distancing measures: wash your hands immediately upon entering the home, stand at least a metre apart from each other, wear a mask, bring hand sanitiser and avoid touching surfaces. If possible, the current occupants should vacate the property during viewings to minimise contact with other households. Ideally, they can also allow access to hand-washing facilities and provide separate towels or even paper towels. After the viewing, the property owner or tenant should clean surfaces and door handles, and wash towels.
What is the new Help to Buy scheme?
The new Help to Buy Equity Loan (2021-2023) is due to replace the existing Help to Buy scheme on 1 April 2021, which means that existing homeowners wanting to use the current scheme to help towards buying a new home have less than five months to apply for it.
Under the new scheme, only first-time buyers will still be able to borrow up to 20% (40% in London) of the cost of a newly built home. The buyer must pay a minimum of 5% deposit for the home and then use a Help to Buy mortgage to fund the remaining cost of the property.
First-time buyers wanting to use the Help to Buy: Equity Loan (2021-2023) can reserve their new home using the scheme from 16 December 2020, but they cannot get the keys to move in until 1 April 2021.
Can I close a purchase between now and Christmas?
“Between 1-3% of purchases tend to complete within a month, depending on purchase type. So it is theoretically possible to complete on a property before Christmas, however, the odds are not in your favour,” says Emma Harvey, director of mortgages at MoneySuperMarket. “To go through smoothly will require no issues with conveyancing or the property itself, with minimal chains on either side and for a mortgage offer to be secured ASAP.”
She adds: “It is crucial to be realistic about how long a house purchase can take, or you may find yourself disappointed, or worse, looking for last minute accommodation over Christmas. Rushing into something may also leave you with regrets if you have made a quick decision on probably one of the biggest purchases in your life. If completing before Christmas is getting tight, why not give yourself a bit more breathing space and look ahead to 2021 with a new goal – New Year, New House.”
Can I get a mortage holiday?
In March, the government announced that homeowners could take a three-month mortgage payment holiday if their finances were affected by coronavirus. The deadline to apply for a mortgage payment holiday has been extended to 31 March 2021. You can find all the information you need on Money Advice Service.
Do I have to pay stamp duty?
In July, Rishi Sunak delivered a mini-budget to kickstart the UK’s economy during the coronavirus pandemic. Among his tax and spending plans, he announced a stamp duty cut on property purchases up to £500,000 which could save buyers as much as £15,000. This scheme will end in April 2021.
Will I be able to find and rent a new property before Christmas?
Last month, SpareRoom reported that London rental rates remain in decline, which means it’s a good time for renters who are moving to try find a cheap deal. “With so many young renters leaving the capital, either to find cheaper rents, to move with family, or to leave the UK altogether, it’s hard to know when, or even if, London will regain the appeal it had before the pandemic,” said SpareRoom director Matt Hutchinson. “What we’re seeing might just be a temporary shift in the rental market, or it may be the start of the UK’s rental map being redrawn permanently. Even if young renters do return to the capital in their previous numbers, affordability will be their absolute top priority, in a city that already had an affordability crisis coming into this.”
But Harvey warns: “If you are looking to move into rented accommodation before Christmas, this may be more feasible [than buying] and you may find more options for renting rather than purchasing. However again, it’s important to not rush into something you are unsure about as this is still a large financial decision.”
Speak to a Financial Conduct Authority registered financial adviser before taking financial advice, and think carefully before making any decision.