By Lina Saigol
The U.K. government has outlined plans to restart the housing market as part of its campaign to ease the lockdown and stimulate the economy.
Speaking at Wednesday’s government press conference, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said building sites will be able to apply to extend their hours to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday in residential areas, and later in other areas, to make it easier for builders to observe social distancing.
From Wednesday, buyers and renters in England are being allowed to move house, so long as they follow the new guidance , Jenrick said. Around 450,000 house buyers have put their moving plans on ice since the lockdown began in March.
Estate agents can open, and in-person viewings will be allowed if people follow the guidance, although these should be carried out online in the first instance.
Jenrick said it might seem “confusing at first glance” that people can “look around a stranger’s home but not visit their [own] parents,” but said moving house could be done safely.
He said the opening of the housing market was key to reviving the economy, which contracted by 2% in the first quarter, marking the worst quarter-on-quarter performance since the financial crisis in 2008, according to new data from the Office for National Statistics.
Earlier on Wednesday, residential builder Crest Nicholson /zigman2/quotes/207992108/delayed UK:CRST -1.47% said it would begin a phased restart of work on its sites from May 18, while rival Taylor Wimpey /zigman2/quotes/208623755/delayed UK:TW -0.11% announced plans to reopen sales offices and show homes.
Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said the need to get Britain building again is “arguably pretty acute” as even a short disruption could set back attempts to build enough new homes to meet demand over the long term.
“Several builders have started to resume activity on site, with Crest Nicholson today the latest to announce its plans to do so. Crest Nicholson is a bit behind the curve with some of its peers already having been back at work in some fashion for several weeks,” Mould said.
“This move is accompanied by measures we may have to get increasingly used to in the coming months with prebooked appointments, Perspex screens and social-distancing markers likely to be part of the new normal across a range of sectors,” he added.
Shares in Crest Nicholson closed up 2.51% in London, while Taylor Wimpey closed 2.71% lower.