Are Covid-19 House Hunters Bending or Breaking Lockdown Laws?

covid house buyers lockdown laws

One of the biggest differences between the current lockdown and the first lockdown last March is that most of the economy has remained up and running. The real estate sector suffered heavily during the first lockdown, when it was forced to shut down entirely for several months.

Today, buying and selling houses across the United Kingdom is perfectly possible, albeit with added precautions that need to be taken for health and safety reasons.

But what is causing concern for some is that a good deal of COVID-19 house hunters are apparently pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable, in some instances travelling hundreds of miles to view homes.

In-person property inspections are still permitted in England, and property purchase intent remains high in the countdown to the March 31 stamp duty holiday expiration date. Nevertheless, real estate agents have noted a sharp rise in the number of people travelling long distances to view second homes they intend to purchase.

The government continues to recommend virtual property inspections and meetings where possible, a compromise many (if not most) buyers remain unwilling to make.

The government’s rules on house viewing

Some estate agents have spoken of declining viewings from prospective homebuyers intending to travel over 400 miles to view a potential second home. First-time buyers are being shown more leniency than those simply interested in extending their portfolios, given the difference between essential travel and unnecessary journeys.

However, the UK’s property sector has acknowledged the lack of clarity on the part of the government with regard to buying, selling, and viewing rules. As has been the case throughout much of the past year, there is a degree of ambiguity in the policy regarding what is and is not allowed.

For example:

  • There are currently no laws, rules, or direct restrictions with regard to people viewing properties on the market during the lockdown in England.
  • The government has stated that virtual meetings and inspections should be carried out where possible, though this is not a formal requirement.
  • Any in-person viewings that take place should be conducted in accordance with all applicable health and safety protocols and social distancing guidelines.
  • No specific restrictions have been outlined regarding how far anyone can travel to view a property they intend to purchase.
  • There are no differences in the rules for buyers with different intents: first-time buyers, second-home buyers, buy-to-let investors, and so on.

It is therefore entirely up to the prospective buyers and the agents they work with to exercise common sense throughout the process.

With no specific legislation in place regarding the distances that can be travelled to view properties for sale, those choosing to travel hundreds of miles to view prospective homes are not breaking any laws. Nor are the estate agents that choose to arrange viewings for prospective buyers from halfway across the country.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government simply reaffirmed the importance of those involved taking responsibility for their actions.

“All parties involved must continue to play their part in reducing the spread of the virus by following our guidance to make COVID-19 secure,” the spokesman said.