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Property viewings should stop, Labour tells government

Sir Kier Starmer has told the government it should look again at whether estate agents’ viewings of properties for sale and to let should be allowed.

In a speech where there was substantial criticism of the government’s handling of the Coronavirus crisis, the Labour leader did not go so far as to say that the housing market should be effectively shut down, as it was in the spring 2020 lockdown.

But he said: “It is still possible at the moment, as I understand it, to go and view houses if you’re going to buy a house, and that wasn’t allowed last March. So we’re in this extraordinary situation … at least as serious, if not a more serious position than in March of last year, we’ve got less restrictions in place.”

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“I think we are going to have to look in the next 24 hours or so, what are the other measures that could be put in place, and hear from the scientists as to which of those that they think are more effective, and then all pull together and support those measures if they’re needed because the numbers are still, as everybody knows, heading in the wrong direction on.”

If the market is formally closed or elements of it such as viewings are suspended by government, the difficulties surrounding buyers and conveyancers meeting the stamp duty deadline of March 31 become still more challenging; likewise the knock-on effect on removal firms, surveyors, lawyers and other transaction-related professions would be huge.

Starmer’s speech - his first major scheduled one for 2021 - made a list of specific economic demands on the government, including withdrawing its proposed housing benefit changes and to reverse its agreement for local authorities to raise council tax.

But on Coronavirus Starmer said the government had not honoured its contract with the British people by failing to get the pandemic under control after many months of restrictions.

“It makes no sense to me at all that when we’re asking so much of the British people, the government is doing so little to support families,” he said, calling for “a legal, enforceable and immediate right for parents to request paid, flexible furlough and by promoting that to all working parents to help them get through this lockdown”.

In his speech, Starmer attacked the government for "having been found wanting at every turn" with Prime Minister Boris Johnson being "indecisive" and acting "too slow." 

He said: "The British people will forgive many things. They know the pandemic is difficult. But they also know serial incompetence when they see it - and they know when a prime minister simply isn't up to the job."

A statement from Downing Street rejected the criticism, saying: "This government has shown it is prepared to act. When given evidence in the morning it has taken action that evening."

Poll: Is Starmer right? For the sake of public health, should...

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  • icon

    He is not wrong. Its a real bitter sweet. On one hand, we are incredibly lucky to be able to continue to work but the logic in being able to value 5..6..7 houses a day and showing homes seems like a risk. Sadly, if not "forced" to close, business have no help so have no choice but to open

  • icon

    He probably has a point!

  • Andrew Ireland

    With appropriate PPE the risks of spreading Covid are greatly reduced; I don't see a problem.

  • icon

    Sir Kier Starmer will be complaining next about the poor economy.

  • David Bennett

    As an ex-estate agent, now energy assessor, I find it crazy that we can visit homes! I take all precautions and will only visit vacant properties or those where there is only one resident, both masked, min 2m distance, internal doors open and loft hatch opened for me. I would prefer a full lockdown, so we all know where we stand, for the next 6-8 weeks or longer.

  • icon

    Totally concur. I'm already seeing offices staffed with the usual full complement and hearing tales of open days and buyers not even on the market being shown houses.

  • icon

    We're West Essex/ Redbridge borders. The highest rates in the country.......I feel responsible for the team and their families and yet people would view houses irrespective of the health risks. Unfortunately we have to be the grown ups once again!

  • Glenn Taylor

    Many agents forced to shut with no realistic compensation will go bust. This action also opens the door to the online for profit # organisations. Momentum is key, when you shut the doors and that is lost it takes the time one is closed to create the momentum again. As a service industry this has catastrophic ramifications to the long term health of the provision.
    We should dig deeper into detail for sure, work with common sense, any viewings should be cautiously organised. I do believe tales of incompetence are probably limited to the idiot factor that prevails generally among society and will never change and fines , big fines should act as deterrent.
    # online for profit meaning no control over viewings where vendors have to do it which surely is worse.

    David Bennett

    By closing agent's doors, for say, 4-6 weeks, how many sales do you realistically think you would lose? The staff would either work from home and have the phone lines redirected or have a rota to be in the office. Use the time usefully, to get the abundance of sales through to Completion. I think it embarrassing that agents are regarded as 'key workers', earning nice commissions, when the bulk of the nation are suffering. not doing themselves any favours with the public's perception.

     
  • Glenn Taylor

  • Simon Shinerock

    The negativity here is misplaced, consider the relative risk of allowing the tube to remain open, or supermarkets for that matter. The risk of infection from carefully planned viewings is negligible by comparison. Right now the morale of the country is at an all time low, the property market being open at least symbolises freedom, shutting it down would be a further blow and would lead to many more problems than it could possibly solve. Starmer is obliged to oppose something, he has simply picked on the property market for the sake of expediency

    peter greenwood

    Exactly my thoughts, we have learned alot over this past 9 months on how to do viewings safely and effectively including qualifying applicants first to ensure they are not time wasters and ensuring that each property has a video to again narrow down the need to go to properties. We only do viewings when the property is empty so if tenanted the occupants must go into the garden or take their daily exercise so no chance of cross-contamination. Or at least a minor amount as there is some risk in everything that we do as a result of this pandemic.
    If we don't keep the sales and lettings market moving then the entire property market and industry closes down, like it did in March last year including, conveyancers, solicitors, mortgage brokers and companies, EPC, Floorplan, photographers, etc and not to mention the fact that our contractors are still doing essential property maintenance. It is defiantly safer than going to my local Sainsbury!
    I walk my dog in the local park and people don seem to worry about the 2m rule, I am always the one to step to one side and very few, even vulnerable people dont wear masks, so I feel much safer inside a property in full ppe!

     
  • Glenn Taylor

    No disrespect to Keir Starmer who I highly rate, his people just surf along looking for holes and places to attack the opposition.

  • icon

    SAGE Leaks like a sieve - you can bet this was discussed recently at SAGE and it would not surprise me within the next few days HMG will come out with an announcement of some sort.

    Mrs whatsherface north of The Border does exactly the same thing. She takes part in these meetings - and then rushes out to the cameras first - making her look ever so great and ''the UK government will follow'' - but in fact it was UK HMG where it started.

    Algarve  Investor

    Maybe shows she's a much savvier communicator than dithering, can't make up his mind Boris, who is always at least three steps behind everyone else. Which is funny because normally his tactic is to see which way the crowd is going, jump in front of it, and then say 'follow me!'. It's what he did with Brexit, which he only half-believed in and which helped him to write outrageous articles for the Telegraph for many years.

    The government still can't give any clarity over what constitutes a reasonable distance for exercise, and whether coffee constitutes a picnic.

    And now Boris himself is under pressure to explain a seven-mile cycle ride to Stratford!

    Do as I say, not as I do.

    I'm not totally sold on Starmer, but he and Sturgeon are light years ahead of Boris and his Cabinet of incompetents.

     
  • Algarve  Investor

    Surely a stamp duty extension would help, in preventing the surge of transactions between now and March? If people were reassured they could still take advantage of the stamp duty holiday until March next year, say, there wouldn't be this massive rush to get things over the line before the end of March, which must in part be leading to more viewings.

    Most people will want to visit the home in person - very few will buy totally sight unseen - so it seems inevitable that if the housing market remains open but there are no actual viewings, things will slow down a fair bit as those who have already viewed/made up their minds progress their house sales, while others hold out.

    There seems to be issues with people still mixing too much, but I imagine in a controlled environment like a Covid-secure viewing, the risks are pretty low and managed. Still, if people aren't comfortable/happy doing them, it should be held off until March/April time when the worst months of the pandemic are over.

    icon

    If anybody thinks that by viewing today, this week or this month and making offers that they have any chance of benefiting from the stamp duty holiday they must be put straight ..... unless you have cash (and even then you will need luck on your side) it just won't happen! Bank and building society staff, solicitors and local authority staff are all working at home ...... a quick sale is not possible! So why not stop viewings for a few weeks, look after your staff, save lives and stop giving anybody who fancies a trip out an excuse!

     
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    • N W
    • 11 January 2021 15:50 PM

    Having very strict process's in place from day 1 i actually feel far safer at work carrying out appointments than i do going to the shops where there is still too much close proximity and also people who are blatantly not wearing masks because they dont want to do so rather than for health reasons (and plenty too stupid to realise how to wear a mask or how and when to use hand sanitiser etc)

    At least at work we can control who we meet and who not (anyone turns up without correct PPE or ignores the rules doesn't get over the front door of any property and we maintain greater than the social distance required

    our office only has half the usual staff in and all more than 5/10 meters apart and those not in the office working from home to reduce contact (and act as a back up if any of us in the front line office should become ill and we need team 2 to step into the breach f team 1 are self isolating.

    Any agents flouting the rules should be dropped in it in my view but in the main as an industry we seem to be tighter than many and far better than all the main food shops where they seem to afraid to refuse entry if someone ignores the rules!.

  • icon

    they need to close it to new viewings and allow existing moves to go through like last time. At the moment i feel embarrassed we are still raking it in when so many are suffering. any estate agent who didnt make enough booty last year to get through a few weeks this year has to question their business model.

  • icon

    Labour is right viewings should be stopped its very risky and more to thr point goverment is saying all face to face businesses should be closed so why us letting and estate agents are put in risk. Mr sunak and mr borris are just finding ways not to offer grant to us thats all. One min they telling peaple not to mix with ur own family but yet you cam meet random agents and view houses where there may be peaple living . What kind of lockdown is this mr borris.
    More to the point small agents dont even have portfolia of sale and hardly n lettings tsking place invome is 80% less then normal no help from goverment. They making us suffer financiially and making us work further more putting us in risk meeting random peaple. No good at all. . They need to listen to labour and get some sense and stop viewing offer help to agents or at lesst give choice to agents open dont get grant or close get grant this way the businesses doing well can open agents that are suffering like us can close

  • David Bennett

    I was impressed with one of my agents who only yesterday, refused to conduct a viewing, because when advised ahead of the visit, that a mask should be worn, the woman refused. Thinking she was calling his bluff, he finished the call. She was also travelling 30 miles, from Bristol! When will people just accept the spirit of the rules, rather than try to find ways around it. Noticeably, normal traffic on the roads. Lockdown, what lockdown? Come on Govt, lets have a proper lockdown for say, 4 weeks, so we all know where we stand. Agents should have enough fat to live off, from the fantastic autumn market and can concentrate on getting the existing deals over the Stamp Duty Holiday line.

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