Our special panel of experts look at whether the county’s housing market will bounce back after coronavirus
We have seen something of a mini-boom. A lot of that comes down to the fact that, apart from essential transactions, the housing market slowed right down during the lockdown so there is quite a bit of pent-up demand. Properties have come on to the market and sold within a week.
All the indicators from estate agents or solicitors suggest that in Cumbria the housing market has already shown signs of bouncing back. Once viewings were permitted, the industry was able to restart before a number of other businesses, which I think has been a positive for the housing market.
The new-build market has rebounded strongly, following the opening of sales centres. Wider market activity is increasing, as conveyancing, solicitors and mortgage providers return to a regular form of business. The country still has a shortfall and buyers can access extremely low mortgage rates.
Sales prices have been extremely robust. We’ve agreed nearly 100 deals since coming back, all within 2.5 per cent of the guide price, which confounds the doomsayers predicting a significant price correction. The feedback is that Covid-19 was a postponement of sales and moves, not a cancellation.
We will need to see how long and deep any recession is and if there is an impact on house prices. Cumbria does have some strong employers, such as Sellafield and the shipyard, that will continue to provide well-paid jobs for local people which will support local markets.
It is difficult to say what the housing market, or any other sector for that matter, will do in six months or a year’s time. However, I think the current indications are positive and I hope lenders continue to provide support for home buyers in the coming months.
Location will remain a key factor for most buyers, with good local amenities, schools and transport routes ensuring traditionally sought-after areas will remain in demand for high-quality homes. Any slowdown in sales in the short term will be replaced with high demand in the medium to long term.
Mid-term there are two main factors to be concerned over: unemployment rates rising once the furlough scheme ends and the appetite of lenders to lend at 90%-95%. Currently, many of them are looking for larger buyer deposits that are out of the reach of many first-time buyers.
Low-cost housing and local occupancy schemes are a great way for lots of our customers to get on the housing ladder and we have a flexible outlook on supporting them. Hopefully we can see more local developers getting the go-ahead for schemes that include affordable homes to benefit local people.
The Prime Minister has announced changes to the planning system and put forward a clear message of build, build, build. The Government has created a £12bn affordable homes programme to support up to 180,000 new affordable homes. This is a huge boost for Britain and for Cumbria.
We are looking to create partnerships with local housing associations to explore how we increase the delivery of more affordable housing in the county. At the heart, will be working in partnership at the outset of a development. We hope to announce news about these partnerships very soon.
A stamp-duty holiday would be a helpful incentive and, if transaction levels fall, help-to-buy schemes for first-time buyers could be extended to second-hand homes. Mixing developments with affordable units gives first-time buyers and young families a valuable helping hand.
A good way to kick-start the market would be to review stamp duty for first-time buyers. Anything that encourages them to make the leap would be good because if we don’t help them then nobody further up the chain moves. Cumbria also needs more variety and choice in the housing market.
The priority for the housing sector should be to have a good range of houses available in a number of locations, away from flood plains. Social landlords and private landlords should keep their properties in good repair. I know many do, but I would like to see this being the case for all rental properties.
Delivery of more high-quality homes remains the key challenge for Cumbria to attract and retain people within the region. This will require more housing delivery and land approved through local plans. Space at home will be crucial, including flexible living space for families or home working.
Modernising the housing stock and providing affordable entry prices for local residents in all areas. We have amazing homes and developments, beautiful locations and vibrant towns and communities but we also have large amounts of poor housing stock left over from the industrial age.