As Guernsey recently entered phase 4 of its exit from lockdown strategy, we take a look at the property market.
When the Covid-19 pandemic reached our shores, the vast majority of property transactions were paused. But with community co-operation and first class guidance from the Director of Public Health and representatives of the States of Guernsey, matters are picking up even more quickly than we could have imagined.
In this article, Ferbrache & Farrell partner and property lawyer, Alastair Hargreaves, answers a series of questions about property post-lockdown.
- What has been the impact on the local property market as a result of this global pandemic?
During lockdown, it was difficult to predict what the impact would be. However, the level of market activity is now surprisingly high and which gives many reasons to remain positive and confident. Other jurisdictions have remarked favourably upon how well the situation has been managed here, and that is always a boost. It has been particularly beneficial that the economy has been freed up as quickly as it has been, as that seems to have minimised any significant erosion in people’s willingness to enter into transactions.
- Has there been a drop off in business because of the pandemic and lockdown?
In short, happily not that we have seen. The work we are doing is not only a continuation of the instructions that were suspended, but a good amount of new instructions too, which is extremely encouraging. Other law firms, estate agents and finance providers we speak to are busy too, and that’s great. People seem to want to be buying and selling and refinancing, and particularly at this time of year.
- What has the impact on property prices been?
Property prices don’t seem to have been adversely affected. A number of properties on the island are under offer since the easing of lockdown restrictions and there is even evidence of prices being agreed higher than the asking price.
- So is property still a good investment in Guernsey?
As a lawyer, I am not in a position to provide investment advice, as there are others far more qualified than me who can do that. That being said, 2019 was the busiest conveyancing period we have witnessed for many years and which suggests that Guernsey real estate is very much sought after. That position (post-Covid) has not changed in my opinion.
- Was there a problem of houses falling through because of the pandemic and lockdown?
Again, happily not. The Royal Court and the property advocates in Court Row worked together to put procedures in place to suspend most transactions, but to enable completion for those where it was absolutely essential. Later in lockdown, the property industry worked together to implement safe working practices and which received the relevant approvals. That step enabled our respective businesses to recommence and which was a great example of the business community working together to find solutions.
- If someone was thinking of selling before lockdown would you advise them to hold off until things have returned to normal?
I think the prudent thing here is to speak with an estate agent. We are coming into a busy time for property transactions in any case, as the weather is good and properties look their best. If the last few weeks of activity is anything to go by, there is likely to be a good level of interest in any new sale stock that comes to market.
- What would your advice be about sellers getting planning permission for development on a property before they put it up for sale?
For some buyers, having the opportunity to develop a property with a planning permission can be quite attractive. For others, it may be more limiting, or not appealing at all. Regardless, the seller may incur costs to obtain the permission. In an ideal world, the buyer and seller would work together so that the permission was one which the buyer wanted, and this can be achieved in legal drafting.
- Legal fees can be off putting those thinking of moving. Why are they so high?
There is a common misunderstanding of what legal fees are made up of. There is a distinction between legal costs of the advocate (which are generally fixed) and third party costs. Of those third party costs, the largest will be a tax charged by the States of Guernsey and which is collected by the Royal Court. A house bought for £350,000 will attract a tax bill of over £8,800, whereas legal fees will be only a small fraction in size compared to that. Added together the single figure will be high, although the client will only be paying a small percentage for the advocate. Years ago, advocates’ fees were fixed at 0.75% of a property purchase price; nowadays that sum is 0.35% or less.
If Covid-19 has demonstrated anything in Guernsey (or the wider Bailiwick for that matter), it is our great sense of shared purpose, resilience and problem solving. With a mix of community spirit, entrepreneurialism, business thinking and positivity the recovery should be swift and strong in all parts of our island lives.