The residential property market in Norfolk is bouyant

Published 15 September 2020

SharedOwnershipDespite Covid, and the uncertainties over jobs, the economy and Brexit - and even despite the furore created by the Stamp Duty holiday – fundamentally the residential property market in Norfolk is buoyant.

In a normal year, apart from holiday destinations like North Norfolk, estate agents would expect to experience a slightly quieter period in August, whilst people take their annual leave.  But this is no ordinary year by any definition of the word – and the summer has been one of the busiest I can remember for house sales.

From the moment estate agents opened their doors after lockdown, the market has been going full tilt.  Of course, there was an initial ‘catch-up’ bounce caused by people whose plans had been frustrated by being unable to move in March, April and May, but the sustained nature of the ongoing upswing cannot be explained by that alone.

The very experience of lockdown drove some to seek a move, either because being confined to their homes made them realise that they need more space, or – sadly – because of relationship breakdowns caused by being cooped up in rather too close quarters.  With a second wave of coronavirus a distinct possibility, there has been something of a rush to move house before a possible second lockdown comes into force.

Working from home, with its need for extra space, quiet and access to good broadband, has also contributed to this.  With such working patterns looking as if they will become long-term, we are also seeing a significant number of buyers deciding to move to Norfolk from Essex and the home counties, escaping the daily London commute and realising that being further from the capital gives them both a better home for their money, and an improved quality of life.

Prior to the Covid crisis, the market was resurgent anyway, so without the pandemic we would probably have expected to see a strong 2020; the stamp duty holiday for properties under £500,000 (which in practice means the vast majority of homes in Norfolk) has helped this along, but it is only one of a number of factors.

Of course, whilst the summer market has been exceptional, there are clouds on the horizon which could – and I emphasise the word ‘could’ – cool down this resurgent market.

Covid-19 cases rise and fall daily (although levels are still very low in Norfolk), and no-one can predict how the winter will pan out.  Local lockdowns, new restrictions on movement, and even a second wave of fatalities, could all dampen demand.

Actually, though, the factor most likely to stand in the way of a sustained surge is an economic one.  With the furlough scheme coming to an end, job security is a big issue for some.  The sad fact is that most businesses are now operating as they will for some time to come; those still on furlough must be asking themselves whether their job still really exists – and that is not a situation in which people will have the confidence to make a big investment. But this can still be a cause for people to move home – to reduce mortgage commitments, release capital to build a financial ‘war chest’, and even choose early retirement.

The longer-term economic outlook is difficult as well.  Even if/when we are all vaccinated and able to get back to normal, paying off the cost of the pandemic is going to impact the economy – and our taxes - for many years to come.

And then, of course there is Brexit.  Love it or loathe it, Brexit has introduced significant uncertainty into everything, and whether a last-minute deal is done or we leave with no deal at the end of the year, there is going to be disruption to many areas of life and the economy.These are all real concerns, but at the moment they don’t seem to be stopping a sustained period of positivity in the market.  Lockdown has made all of us appreciate our sense of ‘home’ more, and persuaded us to seek out a better quality of life – and the space in which you live has a massive impact on that.

This factor is also driving strong demand for second homes.  Realising that it may be some considerable time before the overseas holiday market is reliably accessible again, many are buying homes to use for getaways – and as investments to take advantage of the explosion in demand for staycations.

Although there are sure to be bumps in the road over the next twelve months, my prediction is that the fundamentals that make the market are strong, and the resurgence we have seen since May is certainly continuing into the traditionally busy autumn – a hopeful sign that in one way at least, normality has returned.

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Jan Hytch

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