The Scottish property market: the new normal and virtual reality route out of lockdown


With the publication of the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 phased route map out of lockdown and estate agency activity resuming South of the border in England, many sellers and buyers are wondering when house moves can safely resume again in Scotland.

Since lockdown, we have been releasing regular content on the East Central Scotland property market. One feature focused on the virtual reality of the local property market. In this article we commented that buyers and sellers were adapting to find new ways of conducting the process of buying and selling in this strange new world and that virtual elements such as 360 tours were here to stay not just as a necessity to ensure social distancing is maintained as much as possible but as an extremely helpful and useful marketing feature for both sellers and buyers alike.  We also recognised the power of social media as a marketing tool moving forward.

We released tips on how to prepare  your property for sale here, first time buyer tips here, information on the power of social media in the new normal and more. In fact, we’ve released 17 articles since COVID-19 emerged and you can read them all on our blog here.

In this article, we aim to answer FAQs we have been receiving lately and our thoughts on the most sensible way forward that will protect health and safety and adhere to social distancing whilst also stimulating the property market and pent up demand when it is safe to do so.

Where does Scottish property market activity fit into the Scottish Government phased plan?

The Scottish Government’s COVID-19 Route Map published on 21st May outlines a phased approach to the easing of lockdown measures. Phase 1 is being introduced from tomorrow Friday 29th May. This phase focuses on an increase in outdoor activity with social distancing. This phase also includes “preparing for the safe reopening of the housing market”.

If the rate of infection remains low amongst other key criteria following the introduction of phase 1, phase 2 is scheduled for Thursday 18th June although the Scottish Government have advised they may bring some elements forward, if all was going well. The route map in phase 2 states that it is likely there will be “relaxation of restrictions on housing moves”.

The industry – from property portals to Solicitor and Estate Agents and surveyors to photographers – await further details from the Scottish Government on what “preparing for the safe reopening of the housing market” entails as mentioned in phase 1. It is extremely likely that it will include issuing guidance around how property market activities can be completed safely in the future bearing in mind that we will need to adjust to a new way of working to mitigate the risks of infection and maintain social distancing.

All going well, can I physically view properties again from 18th June?

In person viewings and valuations are currently not permitted under the current guidance and we must bear in mind that whilst lockdown will be eased, the virus has not gone away and we need to ensure that we are all working with health and safety at the forefront.

Even as lockdown is eased and activities such as physical viewings are permissible under certain circumstances, we expect that virtual viewings will be a key requirement of viewing in the first instance.

In England, this is the case. You can read the English guidance here where it advises that initial viewings must be completed virtually first.

We must remember as well that some sellers are vulnerable (e.g. due to a health condition or age) and in this circumstance our sales clients will only be permitting one physical viewing when an Offer is received and accepted based on the condition of that one viewing. This is because the health and safety of our clients is of paramount importance.

Neilsons have been innovating at a fast rate to offer our sale clients a 360 virtual tour walk through facility. This is taken just one time and is uploaded to all the property portals and allows buyers to navigate through the property with excellent detail at the click of a button from the comfort of their own home. You can view a sample here. We believe this enhances the marketing of any property, not just during the pandemic and will remain a core component of our marketing moving forward. We believe that the 360 virtual tour will cut down on any unnecessary viewings and this is extremely important in the new virtual reality of the property market.

Will all Solicitor Estate Agents offices open again on 18th June?

The Scottish Government roadmap recommends remote working wherever possible as we transition out of lockdown. This is because social distancing must be maintained.

Moving forward, we will continue to encourage remote working where possible to protect the health of our staff and the public.

We are a firm that can offer flexible and remote working because our systems work well at home e.g. telephone, banking, case management systems. In addition, new COVID-19 legislation has introduced new measures that permits us to witness documents and Deeds by video call.

Consultations will always be required to take place via email, telephone call or video calling initially.

If a meeting in person is necessary, our staff are taking extra precautions in line with government regulations – from washing and sanitising hands regularly, walking, cycling or driving their own car to the office, regularly sanitising frequently used equipment and wearing PPE where necessary.

Where it is necessary for an office to open to a member of the public, it will be on a strict appointment only service where social distancing will be maintained, hands sanitised or washed on arrival and on departure, and the use of protective equipment such as face coverings and gloves. Clients must agree to the above as health and safety is paramount.

If a physical viewing is permitted, what health and safety advice should I follow as a buyer or seller?

If you are intent on physically viewing a property, we must ensure that you are serious about the property.

Neilsons staff will ask questions about your intentions and if you have viewed the property virtually first, if you have a mortgage agreement in principle and if you have adequate sources of funds to cover the purchase.

In addition, we will also ask if you or anyone else in your household has any symptoms of COVID-19 such as a cough and a high temperature or has been asked to self-isolate for whatever reason. If you or anyone in your household develops symptoms or has to self-isolate for whatever reason between the time of booking the viewing and attending the viewing, you must notify us so that we can postpone the viewing.

This is not intended to be obstructive and please be as accommodating as possible to any questions asked – please bear in mind that we need to ensure safety first in the new normal.

Where we confirm physical viewing may be permitted, physical viewings should be limited to members of the same household and open viewings should not take place.

When physically viewing properties as a buyer, you should avoid touching any surfaces and use your own hand sanitiser upon entering and leaving the property. If you do not have hand sanitiser, it may be possible for you to wash your hands with soap at the property although this cannot be guaranteed, especially for empty properties, so hand sanitiser is recommended.

The number of people on a viewing should be minimised to those from your household that absolutely have to be there. Ideally, this should not include small children who may be tempted to touch surfaces. If you need to be accompanied by small children, you should try to keep them from touching surfaces and ensure they keep their hands clean by hand sanitiser or by washing hands.

The use of a face covering and gloves is advised, too.

If people are being shown around your current home, you should open all internal doors and ensure surfaces, such as door handles, are cleaned before and after each viewing with standard household cleaning products. As most people choose to, we recommend that you vacate your property whilst viewings are taking place and perhaps wait in the garden or car in order to minimise your contact with those not in your household.

Will I be able to organise an in-person pre-sale appraisal from 18th June?

In the first instance, it is safest and most sensible to organise a desktop and/or virtual valuation and appraisal.

We know that in the past, it was common to invite around 3 Solicitor Estate Agents to your property to obtain a valuation, advice on marketing and to settle on which agent you would like to sell your home, usually on the same day and for up to an hour per appointment.

In the age of social distancing, this is not recommended, and you would be best advised to contact Solicitor Estate Agents like Neilsons first by email or telephone.

There is a lot that can be sorted by email, telephone call or video and Neilsons do not rely on automated valuation tools.

Each client is unique and our research is thorough so that we are always acting in the best interests of our client. Our clients are not numbers to us in a conveyer belt of transactions, we get to know you and your goals and advise you accordingly.

Here’s some useful tips on deciding which agent to use and good questions to ask your potential agent!

  • Have they sold similar properties in the surrounding area and if so, what were the sale prices (compared to Home Report Value)?
  • Did any recent sales go to competitive closing dates?
  • Is their valuation and appraisal research detailed and organised? Is there any evidence of their research?
  • Do they have good client reviews on the likes of Google and Facebook?
  • You can remove the Facebook reviews section from business pages, if you can’t find Facebook reviews, consider why this is.
  • Has the agent you are considering using been pro-active during lockdown? Is their website up to date? Have they been writing blogs and helping clients throughout? Have they been posting regularly on social media since 23rd March 2020?

You want a firm that is dynamic and pro-active, particularly now more than ever!

Once you have decided on which agent to use, they will need to attend the property safely to take notes and advise on any common pitfalls to avoid prior to the surveyor’s visit for the Home Report.

Neilsons Valuers have the appropriate levels of PPE to enable them to carry out in-person pre-sale valuations and appraisals safely in the future. This includes face masks, gloves, face shields, hand sanitiser and anti-viral wipes.

In this circumstance, we would recommend that much like a viewing you should open all internal doors and ensure surfaces such as door handles have been cleaned before and after the appointment with standard household cleaning products. As most people choose to, we would recommend that you vacate your property whilst the appraisal takes place and perhaps wait in the garden or car in order to minimise contact. Our Valuers would be more than happy to discuss the way forward in the garden at a safe distance following the appraisal if the weather is reasonable or alternatively they can call or video call you afterwards to discuss.

Obviously, if you or anyone in your household has COVID-19 symptoms such as a cough or a high temperature or must self-isolate for whatever reason please do let us know at your earliest opportunity so that we can postpone any visits.

Moving home guidelines

We expect a safe moving procedure in Scotland will be established soon advising on all aspects of house moves.

Neilsons have long been sanitising keys on arrival at our offices but there are other considerations such as how removals can be complete in the safest way.

The British Association of Removers are encouraging removal firms to adapt now with measures such as detailed risk assessments, staggering start times and health and safety checks and PPE for staff.

All parties in the new normal will be required to be flexible and patient and we would be doing a disservice by not advising that there will be some delays compared to what we are used to. For example, we have 30 properties lined up to go on the market and will be working through the list as effectively and efficiently as possible in the fairest way but there will inevitably be slightly longer marketing dates to begin with. Rest assured, Neilsons family of staff are extremely efficient and a good team to have in your corner whilst navigating a new normal!

Check out some of our recent reviews on Facebook here and on Google here.

Pent Up Properties to Market and Pent Up Demand

There have been further positive signs in the Scottish property market since the English market re-opened and since the Scottish Government announced their route out of lockdown roadmap.

Last week, Neilsons were the first firm in East Central Scotland to notice and report on this upward trajectory as reported here with activity increasing up to 142% in just one week alone.

ESPC have since released further encouraging figures, reporting that activity such as viewing requests, Home Report downloads and schedule downloads are up to the highest level they were since March 2020.

For sellers, now is a good time to get ready for the market, due to the underlying and pent up demand, in order to be one of the first to hit the newly opened full property market. At the moment only vacant properties with an urgent need to sell are permitted to market.

For buyers, it was the hottest market in Edinburgh and the Lothians prior to lockdown and prudent buyers can use the pause in general activity in the market brought about by the pandemic to their advantage by speaking to a Solicitor, obtaining mortgage advice and doing thorough research.

Book a free telephone or video consultation with Neilsons online here