In the last couple of months, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, citizens of the globe have experienced for the first time some completely new situations.  In our Guernsey community, the position is no different.

For example, our daily vocabulary now has some phrases within it, which only last year would not have been foreseen. Who would have thought that ‘in these unprecedented times’, or ‘social distancing’, or ‘self-isolating’ or the ‘new normal’ would have the significance that they now do.

It is on the phrase, the ‘new normal’ that this short piece is focused, and particularly in the context of the Guernsey property market.

So how then might that market look in the weeks and months to come? It is important to be realistic about changes that may need to take place, but we have many reasons to be positive and confident.

There are a number of stakeholders and vital participants that dovetail to make the property market work. They are, for example, the parties themselves (buyers and sellers), but also estate agents, brokers, lenders, surveyors, architects, advocates, the Royal Court and removal companies.  Each has a very important role to play.

The lockdown in Guernsey, brought about by expert health advice and strong political leadership, has served to quickly ‘flatten the curve’ (another new Covid-19 terminology), and the incredible efforts of frontline workers across the community have assisted us in ways that many of us may never know.

Predictably, as businesses have been required to close and some of us having to work from home, the property market has (in all practical senses) been suspended for a time, as each stakeholder is unable to perform its role in the way that it has been accustomed to do.  It is critical that the period of inactivity is kept to a minimum, but of course ensuring public health and the safety of everyone concerned.

The saying ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ is particularly apt at the moment, and a great example of this has been our Royal Court. In a very short space of time indeed, entirely new procedures and practices have been brought into effect (typically in the virtual space) to ensure that justice is administered. Very importantly for the property market, the Royal Court still functions, albeit in a new way and where parties do not need to be present for a completion to take place. Powers of Attorney for clients may well become a mandatory requirement, whereas previously they were more of a precautionary document.

It is likely that the ‘new normal’ must involve social distancing, and if properties are to be visited (e.g. for viewings, or advocate site visits) that all concerned must be satisfied about safe access.

States of Guernsey Guidance Notes, issued on 22nd April states:

“Activities to enable listing, viewing, survey, and sale of property may be carried out under certain strict conditions limiting contact with householders, and only with the householder’s agreement. They may be carried out on condition that any visits shall be conducted:

  • By either no more than one person (or two members of the same household);
  • That such visits should be conducted under strict hygiene requirements, including the ventilation of the property;
  • The property has been fully vacant for seven days prior to any visits; or
  • If the property is inhabited that:

- No one living in the household is symptomatic or has had symptoms in the last 48 hours, under a compulsory isolation order or awaiting results of testing for Covid-19;

-No member of the household is considered medically vulnerable; and

-No member of the household is present in the house during any necessary visit.

Property and estate agents are encouraged to use video facilities in order to reduce the need for in-person visits where possible.”

Our States of Deliberation will, no doubt, be having to make difficult decisions about the timings of a phased return to a semblance of what we were used to. With continued effective political leadership supported by world class medical expertise, we can be confident that our community actions will give us the best prospects of a strong return.

As soon as our property market can open its doors again, with rainbows if needs be, there is likely to be a surge of activity, and happily in time for the Guernsey sunshine.

 

Author Alastair Hargreaves Advocate & Managing Partner