Keith Maslin: My Covid Blog

Gosh, 23 March 2020 seems a long time ago, and indeed it is. As we are hopefully nearing the end of Lockdown 3.0, I thought I would recall a few of the more interesting tales of this pandemic.

So, my staff were furloughed, one of the many new words to become part of our everyday language, from 1 April. I came into the office most days for a couple of hours, to check emails and deal with ongoing sales progression. Alas our trip to Padstow on the 28 March was our first holiday casualty of the pandemic, but sadly something that would become the norm.

Our first lockdown completion was on 31 March. The buyer, a lady getting divorced and having already exchanged, had her removal company cancel on her, but she managed to find a man with a van, and with some help from her ex-husband we managed to get her in on schedule.

Our next completion on 2 April was more challenging. Again, having already exchanged, the buyer, a buy-to-let customer, did not want to complete as he obviously could not let the property. The sellers were buying an empty new build and had a confirmed removal, so had no choice but to continue. Amazingly Maison Let managed to find a tenant within a few days.

Easter passed by in a cloud of DIY and gardening, and the weather was extremely kind.

On 25th April we arranged an unaccompanied viewing on an empty cottage where the buyer had withdrawn because of the pandemic. Thankfully our only fall through of the first Lockdown. On the 29th we re-agreed the sale which completed on 27 July.

Early May saw our second cancelled holiday, a long weekend in The Peak District.  Life trundled on with a mixture of a few hours in the office, lots of gardening, cycling and more DIY!

Following the government’s announcement that we could reopen in mid-May, we agreed a number of sales all of which went through to completion. One was quite memorable as only the husband viewed and offered based on showing his wife the video he took. A brave man me thinks, but they seem very happy and are still there. May also saw the conclusion of one of my most arduous sales. A pretty little cottage in Lea. We commenced marketing in June 2018 and quickly agreed a sale to a local buyer, for her mother to occupy when visiting from overseas. Alas they withdrew in early August at the point of exchange without explanation, disappointment#1 for my lovely clients. They felt so let down they took it off the market and relisted in March 2019. We agreed a sale in July, but the sale fell apart in September as the buyer lost their buyer, disappointment#2. In November, the buyers came back but decided it was now too small! The owners took it off again, but the buyers reappeared late in November saying they had made a mistake and desperately wanted to buy, only to change their mind again a few days later disappointment#3. We planned to remarket spring 2020 but agreed a sale off-market to a lovely buyer at the end of January. Little did we know what was coming. We eventually completed in May and my clients toddled off for a new life in Cornwall to be near their daughter – phew!

June saw the market start to get going with my full-time staff back in the office. There were lots of sales and plenty of take-on’s. With working from home becoming the new norm for many, there was a desire for larger homes, and in particular properties with more than one home office and a decent garden.

The 4th July was a memorable day, and not just for the Americans. We had booked a week in the Isles of Scilly, I first trip there based on numerous recommendations.  We were the first visitors they had seen for months. The timing was incredible on the first day the Hospitality Industry re-opened. It is a magical place, made even more so by feeling so very fortunate to be able to get away.

On 8 July, the chancellor announced the Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) holiday and the market moved to a new level of activity, unseen for many years. We were suddenly working flat out and were convinced, after the doom and gloom earlier in the year, it could not last – how wrong we were.

August, normally a quieter month with so many on holiday, was even busier with for sales and new instructions, that included 3 sales in the same month north of £1M, a first for me!

In September we managed a long week end away in Reeth, walking the Yorkshire hills with friends and, bearing in mind its location to areas back into lockdown, or Tier 4 as we now call it, we were again extremely fortunate. September continued the theme of multiple sales and new instructions.

Normally the market starts to slow in October as we approach the end of British summer time, but with more than a dozen sales it was certainly not the case this year.

Apart from the disappointment of having to cancel the annual bonfire event for which I am chairman, November was another fantastic month for sales. 15 sales agreed in November is a record for me for sure, and the legal system was already starting to groan under the volume of work. The local authority was struggling to complete local searches in less than 3 months, mortgage lenders and surveyors were very busy, and sales were taking 4 months or more to complete.

December, normally a month reserved for sales progression and getting buyers in before Christmas, was unlike any other in my 33 years of Estate Agency. More than half a dozen was amazing, and we ended the year with more than 40 properties still under offer. 

January and Lockdown 3.0 has been interesting. 11 Sales agreed but there is no doubt we are running out of properties to sell. In a normal January we would do 50 or more valuations as sellers prepare for the spring market. This year the SDLT holiday ending currently on 31 March is understandably buyers’ focus. With children home schooling and people on furlough, not forgetting the atrocious weather we have had, marketing your house right now seems a necessity rather than a choice. Of course, there are the 3D’s that always prop up the market, death, debt and divorce, so it will be interesting to see how the year pans out.

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