Like so many other aspects of our lives, the housing market looks a bit different now compared to 18 months ago.
However, the sector is now going from strength to strength, especially in Solihull which continues to be a very attractive area for homebuyers.
To get the lowdown on the market and to find out how house buying trends have changed, we spoke to Gary Sammons, Branch Manager of Centrick Solihull.
SOLIHULL BID: How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected your business and the housing market in Solihull?
GARY SAMMONS: The pandemic has affected virtually every kind of business; likewise, things have certainly changed for Centrick Solihull over the past year. Within the local housing market, we have learnt first-hand how important virtual viewings and video marketing are in helping us to continue to make sales and serve our clients, no matter the restrictions in place. Even before the pandemic, we were already exploring this type of technology and approach to viewings and this stood us in good stead last March! We're sure that this new virtual viewing format will be a long-term trend within the property market.
Looking back over the past year, there was an initial lull during lockdown one - especially across the sales market - due to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and resulting restrictions. However, since the introduction of the stamp duty holiday, we have seen the market move from strength to strength. On the other hand, residential lettings have remained constant throughout the past 12 months, with the market being as buoyant as always. Interestingly, this is where the power and significance of virtual viewings came to the fore: we saw a higher level of applicants proceed with rentals after partaking in virtual viewings than originally expected, and this trend hasn't slowed down in recent months.
BID: Do you think the Coronavirus pandemic has made lasting changes to the property market?
GS: Of course! Video marketing and virtual viewings will continue to play a vital role within the property market and its marketing. Even when restrictions are eventually scaled back, virtual viewings are largely more accessible for prospective buyers and renters and are pretty close to being pandemic-proof.
BID: Has there been a shift from buying to renting due to the financial instability created by the pandemic?
GS: Despite the undeniable impact of COVID, the Solihull sales and lettings market has remained buoyant due to a strong, local economy that has continued to adapt and prosper during these unprecedented times. We have not seen a dramatic shift from buying to renting within the market: both have experienced relatively stable growth in the past 12 months.
BID: There seems to be a push by Government for more housing in towns and city centres. Do you expect this to happen and what benefits would this bring?
GS: To an extent, this is already evident in Solihull with the recent launch of new luxury residential developments such as Broadoaks and Prince's Gate. A rise in the supply and demand for housing developments - both regionally and nationally - is something that we see continuing to grow in the future: especially with new government legislation is coming into effect from August that will allow commercial premises to be converted into homes.
More housing will be hugely beneficial to Solihull town centre: with more residents set to be within walking distance of several local amenities, this will help to stimulate the local economy. As a result, we expect to see an increase in footfall within the town centre and surrounding areas: in turn, this will have a direct impact on the long-term post-pandemic recovery of the nearby retail, leisure and hospitality businesses.
BID: How much of an impact will the new government-guaranteed 95 per cent mortgage loans have on the market?
GS: We anticipate that this new scheme will provide first-time buyers with more options and flexibility to get onto the property ladder, especially compared to previous years. With housing prices increasing year-on-year before the pandemic and ever-changing deposit requirements for banks and mortgage lenders, it has not been easy for the majority of buyers to navigate the market.
We think that the launch of this scheme is likely to lead to further transactions across the sales market and will be beneficial for both buyers and sellers. Plus, the rise of affordable city and town centre housing - as seen with local developments such as Broadoaks - will supply the demand for such properties.
BID: How does the Solihull housing market stack up against the rest of the region?
GS: At present, the Solihull market is strong across both sales and lettings. Several driving factors make the area extremely attractive to families, investors and working professionals alike, such as excellent local schools and outstanding local facilities and transport links. In recent years, we have seen several buyers relocating to Solihull from several regions such as London and the home counties - with some even travelling internationally from the likes of Hong Kong!
BID: On the commercial side, has there been any decline in interest for retail units across Solihull and the wider region?
GS: Centrick Commercial has found that general interest in retail premises has never been stronger; particularly in Solihull, which continues to be a most sought-after location for both local and national retailers. Additionally, our commercial team have a surplus of registered commercial units ready to commit to suitable retail premises in and around Solihull.