Lockdown brings £82bn of UK house sales to shuddering halt

Home sales worth £82 billion have stalled in Britain, according to an online property portal.

Sale agreements on 373,000 homes have been put on hold since the government effectively froze the housing market at the end of March, Zoopla said.

Ministers issued official guidance on March 26 telling people in the early stages of buying or selling their home to delay the transaction while emergency measures were in place. It said that no visitors were allowed into properties, including estate agents, surveyors and potential buyers.

This has amounted to a backlog of £1 billion of estate agency sales revenue, according to the research. Most of the stalled transactions were agreed between November and February and would have been scheduled to complete between April and June.

Meanwhile, agreed new sales are running at a tenth of the levels recorded in early March. The rate of collapsed deals peaked on March 23, the day that the prime minister announced the lockdown, and has fallen back as the volume of new sales declines.

Cardiff has experienced the biggest decline in demand of any British city, falling by 80 per cent between the end of March and the first week of April. Newcastle upon Tyne registered the smallest drop in demand, with buyer inquiries halving over the period.

Estate agents and developers are hoping for a swift market recovery. Richard Donnell, director of research and Insight at Zoopla, said: “Once the coronavirus restrictions are relaxed, we should expect the release of demand that has been building since Brexit and political uncertainty destabilised market sentiment.”

Zoopla predicts that half as many sales will be completed as last year. It has joined the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the professional organisation for estate agents, in calling on the government to introduce a stamp duty holiday to help to support a recovery in the market.

Zoopla said that it was too early to estimate any impact on house prices as sales volumes had fallen by 90 per cent since the start of March. Last month its UK cities house price index registered the lowest monthly growth for more than a year at 0.1 per cent — a third of the monthly growth rate recorded in January and February. The best-performing city was Nottingham, with annual growth of 4.1 per cent.