'Surge' in interest in Scottish homes from London buyers as market reopens

One of the country’s leading estate agents has reported a surge in interest from people in London looking to relocate to Scotland since the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

Some estate agents have reported record levels of interest as the housing market reopens, but extensive restrictions remain around viewings. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Savills said it witnessed a 71 per cent spike in the number of London buyers viewing properties in Scotland in May, compared to the start of the year.

It said that an increasing number of buyers were looking to up sticks to larger properties with more options for home working and access to green space.

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It comes as Scotland’s housing market reopened this week after being effectively mothballed by Covid-19 lockdown measures.

Some estate agents have reported record levels of enquiries, bolstering confidence that the market is line for a strong recovery.

However, efforts to restart the market will be hampered by ongoing restrictions which place strict limits on the number of potential buyers who can view listed properties.

Sellers are being asked to follow extensive cleaning regimes in line with Scottish Government guidance, with some agents asking all prospective buyers to take along gloves and face coverings when visiting a property.

Savills said that there had been an “overwhelming desire” to return to business as usual throughout the lockdown period, and that the Scottish housing market was reopening at a time when a “pent-up demand” was already outstripping supply.

Cameron Ewer, head of the company’s residential division in Scotland, said that demand levels have been “boosted by a surge in interest from London.”

He explained: “We have seen a 71 per cent rise in the number of London buyers viewing our properties located in Scotland in May, compared with the start of the year.

“Larger properties with home-working options, room for extended family and gardens and access to green space are proving to be particularly sought after.”

Carl Warden, a partner at Bell Ingram’s Perth office, said he expected market activity would increase substantially, and that things would “begin to move forward with a vengeance.”

He said that the company’s residential property department showed “good levels of demand and activity” during the lockdown period.

He added: “Our team dealt with over 200 enquiries since the end of March, with buyers and sellers making good use of virtual viewing platforms while travel and home visits were banned.

“In fact, one of our properties completed without a physical viewing. The new owner bought the property on the basis of a video filmed on the seller’s iPhone.”

Elsewhere, Countrywide said it too had seen a “surge in pent-up buyer demand over recent weeks,” which it classed as an “encouraging sign” that the market will “bounce back strongly.”

With estate agents facing a significant backlog of properties to be valued and marketed, let alone viewed, government guidance means that the amount of business completed will likely be curbed.

Open house viewings are not permitted, and all surfaces, such as door handles, must be cleaned before and after each viewing, with any towels disposed of safely or washed.

The government’s guidance also stipulates that physical viewings should only be conducted where people are seriously considering making an offer on, or renting, a property.

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Mr Ewer said that the online market appraisals and virtual viewings arranged during phase one of the Covid-19 lockdown would remain “Important features” of the housing market, particularly for buyers who are shielding, are in the early stages of their property search, or would require to travel significant distances in order for a physical viewing.

But he said the firm has put “stringent protocols” in place to protect clients and staff during in-person viewing.

They include the wearing of PPE, limiting the number of people visiting a house at any one time, and ensuring social distancing is observed. He said the company was able to carry out in-person viewings for those who do not feel comfortable doing so themselves.

Countrywide is limiting the number of people attending a viewing to two from one household, and it asks buyers to bring hand sanitiser, and avoid touching door handles, light switches and other surfaces.

Another leading estate agent, Strutt & Parker, is encouraging people use its online virtual viewing technology to help narrow down their property search, but accepted that anyone looking to make an offer on their “dream home” would want to view it in person beforehand

It asks people booking a viewing to notify staff if anyone in their household has Covid-19 symptoms, or is self-isolating or shielding. Before the viewing, the firm then contacts them to confirm no one has symptomatic or self-isolating.

Come the day of the viewing, would-be buyers are asked to wear a face mask or covering, along with gloves, and to use hand sanitiser if possible. It says that if people are unable to provide these, property agents may not be able to grant them access to the property.

According to Bank of Scotland, online mortgage application enquiries increased by 75 per cent last week, with new lending appointments also up 470 per cent on the previous seven days. It said the majority of those enquiries were from first-time buyers.

It comes as house prices in Scotland bucked a downward trend across the UK. Nationwide Building Society’s house price index found that while annual growth across the UK ground to a halt in June, with property values down by 0.1 per cent year on year, Scotland saw a modest rise in values.

It was the strongest performing nation in the second quarter of the year, with annual price growth picking up by four per cent.

Robert Gardner, Nationwide’s chief economist, said that as lockdown measures continue to ease, housing market activity is likely to edge higher in the near term, albeit remaining below pre-pandemic levels.

He added: "Nevertheless, the medium-term outlook for the housing market remains highly uncertain. Much will depend on the performance of the wider economy, which will in turn be determined by how the pandemic and restrictions on activity evolve."

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