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Estate agents have urged the government to protect the industry as house viewings drop and sales activity slows due to coronavirus.

The sector has called for the government to extend the business rates holiday, which applies to retail and hospitality firms, to estate agent companies.

The UK’s housing market looked set to bounce back this year with increased certainty over Brexit due to the Conservative election victory.

The price of property coming to market in London surged 5.1 per cent year on year last month to an average of £638,826, the highest annual rate of growth since May 2016.

However the coronavirus pandemic has caused viewings to drop, as people follow recommendations to avoid social contact. Knight Frank research found that new buyer volumes were down four per cent last week.

”Typically spring is when we see an influx of properties coming into the market but we are already seeing low stock levels and less demand for viewings,” Mark Hayward, chief executive of the National Association of Estate Agents, said.

Despite challenging circumstances people will still need to buy and sell, so we are advising agents to move to virtual viewings where possible and for buyers and sellers to take a pragmatic approach.”

The government last week said all retail, leisure and hospitality businesses would be given a business rates holiday, regardless of the size of the firm, however the allowance will not extend to estate agents.

“As it currently stands, estate agents are the only businesses on the high street who will continue to have to pay business rates, due to the fact our offices are classed as commercial space and not retail,” Simon Gerrard, managing director at Martyn Gerrard Estate Agents, said.

He added: “Under social isolation measures, no one is able to view homes or properties, and so sales agreements will grind to a halt.

“In addition, we are at the coalface in dealing with both residential and commercial clients unable to pay rent due to loss of earnings and jobs. We have been left out in the cold by the Government, to deal with a crisis that they have failed to sufficiently plan for.”

Liam Bailey, global head of research at Knight Frank, said: “Given the unique nature of real estate, many investors still need to see assets in person before making a decision.

“Their ability to do so is currently curtailed, especially for those without a local market presence. For some this is undoubtedly slowing and even postponing the decision making process.”

By Jessica Clark

Source: City AM

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