Rightmove has taken the unusual step this weekend of issuing its usual monthly asking price index on a Saturday instead of a Monday - and, even more unusually, it doesn’t contain much about asking prices.
This is unsurprising given the absence of a market in recent weeks; in the place of hard data, Rightmove has instead released crowd-pleasing information about how demand has pinged back up after lockdown.
“Home-mover visits to Rightmove hitting pre-lockdown levels” and “four requests from buyers to visit properties before 10.30am on the day the market reopened” and “visits to the portal up four per cent on the same day in 2019” - that sort of thing.
I don’t doubt the accuracy of the data nor that this is anything other than genuinely good news to agents worried about whether pre-lockdown vendors would remain active once restrictions were lifted. It seems they are, which is a relief to the industry.
But the real message to the industry struck me as being tucked away in the small print of the Rightmove statement this weekend - “we expect consistent momentum to rebuild over several months rather than weeks.”
Therein lies the risk, and the need for agents to act sooner rather than later.
Because whether we like it or not, the economic clouds for the autumn and beyond look as gloomy in their own way as the Coronavirus clouds looked when the outbreak gathered momentum in March.
Although nothing has yet been decided - that’s the official line, anyway - the Treasury has already set out a range of options that could become policy in the next six months; they have been leaked to Boris Johnson’s favourite newspaper, the Daily Telegraph.
These options include:
- a two year public sector pay freeze;
- so-called ‘broad-based’ increases in taxation which could feature any one or any combination of rises in income tax, VAT, corporation tax and national insurance;
- an end to the so-called ‘triple lock’ under which annual increases in the state pension are in-line with average earnings or inflation or 2.5 per cent – whichever is the highest;
- higher tax for the self-employed, as Chancellor Rishi Sunak hinted very explicitly when introducing some of his Coronavirus relief measures in April;
- a postponing of many employment-creating capital infrastructure projects that would require substantial public spending.
It’s worth re-emphasising that some or even none of these may not happen - however, it’s not remotely fanciful to say that some or even most could happen. Any one of them would at least dent confidence in the housing market and many other sectors of the economy.
With a budget deficit of £335 billion forecast for this year, some six times higher than forecast before the virus hit, the government has no alternative but to raise money somehow.
We’re already in a recession but thanks to furlough, other government intervention and a natural pre-occupation with changes forced on our society by the virus, we may not have noticed it yet.
This all means that when the worst of the health crisis subsides and the country comes to terms with a new normal, so hard economic decisions must be made. That timing will coincide roughly with the current rush of sellers and buyers completing deals.
I hope I’m wrong of course, but I fear I’m not.
If ever there was a case of making hay when the sun shines, this is it for the agency industry - may summer be busy because autumn could be very tough indeed.
*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting about all things property at @PropertyJourn