The housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, has said in a speech about safely restarting the housing market that technology such as virtual viewings looks set to play an important part.
The housing market has been hit extremely hard by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and by the measures taken to curb the spread of the virus. Mr Jenrick highlighted how 450,000 property buyers had to put their plans on hold and 300,000 tenancies come up for renewal each month. Also, the pandemic has meant that people have been unable to move, many people have been forced to take mortgage holidays or have struggled with rent payments and estate and letting agents around the country have been closed. Housing experts are now predicting a sharp drop in house prices this year.
The construction industry also ground to a halt as lockdown measures were introduced.
It is only now that some estate agents and housebuilding firms have begun to reopen as lockdown restrictions have been relaxed.
Technology is reported to be helping with the restart of the housing and construction industries in several ways including:
– Estate agents being encouraged to conduct virtual viewings rather than in-person visits to properties.
– Digital transformation projects under the Digital Street plan by HM Land Registry that should allow buyers to carry out parts of the property buying process digitally e.g. using blockchain for contracts and signing deeds online.
– The first-ever virtual hearings for the planning inspectorate which Mr Jenrick has said should take place “within weeks”.
– The UK government using video, phones, and computers to vote remotely on debates.
On 13 May Mr Jenrick announced the following other measures to help get the housing market and construction moving in the right direction again:
– The First Homes programme (later this year) will give a 30% discount on new homes for key workers including nurses and teachers and police officers as well as local first-time buyers.
– The opening of estate agents’ offices and show homes and allowing and removal companies and the other essential parts of the sales and letting process to re-start.
– Allowing house-building sites to apply to extend their working hours to 9 pm Monday to Saturday in residential areas and beyond that in non-residential areas.
The pandemic has forced many of those in government, business and other walks of life to use and realise the value of technology in order to carry out what work they can whether it is video conferencing, collaborative cloud-based working platforms, or other tech tools. The fact that aspects of the housing market and planning can be carried out in a ‘virtual’ way provides safe and effective ways to help to get things moving again and is making a positive contribution at an exceedingly difficult time.