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Number of property sales dropped by 40% during March, official figures show

Expected slump following the lockdown is detailed in the March 2020 Price Paid Data from HM Land Registry.

Sheila Manchester

Land Registry Houses image

Everyone in the industry has been expecting it, but the latest official property sales figures from the Land Registry covering the first month of the Coronavirus crisis have been revealed. But although they show a significant downturn in sales, it’s not as bad as many might have thought. Here are the details.

Of 54,785 sales received for registration in March 2020

  • 40,964 were freehold, a 38% decrease on March 2019;
  • 8,019 were newly built, a 39% decrease on March 2019

March figures include 54,500 sales of land and property in England and Wales received by HM Land Registry in March 2020.

Of the 54,785 sales received for registration 5,514 took place in March 2020:

  • 100 residential properties in England and Wales for £1m and over;
  • 71 residential properties in Greater London for £1m and over;
  • 1 was a residential property in Greater Manchester for more than £1m;

Sales received for registration by property type and month

Property type March 2020 February 2020 January 2020
Detached 12,400 17,931 21,931
Semi-detached 13,864 20,296 25,205
Terraced 14,104 20,304 25,648
Flat/maisonette 10,501 14,223 17,090
Other   3,916   5,489   6,108
Total 54,785 78,243 95,982
Industry reaction

Ian McKenzie image Iain McKenzie, CEO The Guild of Property Professionals, says, “The figures would not reflect the activity that was happening at the start of 2020, as there is a three-month lag in the data. So these figures would reflect the downturn in the market caused by the uncertainty as a result of Brexit and the general election before Christmas.

Subsequently, the pandemic pushed ‘pause’ on the property market with lockdown. Most agents have had to rethink the way they conduct business and are now relying on technology to conduct virtual viewings and valuations to progress property transactions.  While transactions are being hit hard and will likely be impacted for the next few months, it will be temporary, and I predict the market will start to recover shortly after restrictions are lifted.”

Link to Franchising newsNick Leeming, Chairman of Jackson-Stops, says, “It is not surprising to see March transactions down on previous months as the country spent over a week of this month in lockdown. April and May’s data is also likely to show a short-term, downward trend due to challenges around the legal and moving processes even if it is still possible to exchange contracts using a COVID-19 clause.

“We continue to see transactions taking place, where all parties abided by social distancing rules, helped by virtual viewings – there is still appetite to buy and sell in this climate.

“Looking ahead, we can expect to see a bounce in the Autumn as pent-up demand builds. With people spending far longer in their homes than usual, many homeowners are likely to get itchy feet where their current property is no longer suitable for their needs or lifestyle. Must-movers will continue to drive activity in the property market, with those planning on growing their families, for example pushing transactions through quickly.”

Jeremy Leaf, RICS imageJeremy Leaf, adds, ‘This report is interesting as it shows the market was not quite as buoyant as perhaps many of us thought just before lockdown. We are of course always told it is dangerous to read too much into one month’s figures!

On the other hand, the lead time between acceptance of offer and completion – with the Christmas break in between for many – will have meant that results may not be as representative as usual bearing in mind particularly market turbulence at the end of 2019.

Transactions are of course always a better indicator of market strength than more volatile house prices but in view of what’s happened since, we will never know if these HMRC numbers are an accurate snapshot.

Clearly, the longer the delay before restrictions are eased, the greater the pressure on the market which will also be determined by the state of the wider economy at that time.’

Simon Bradbury, MD Thomas Morris, says, “My guess is that the market will remain in deep freeze until the end of lockdown. Once that happens (probably phased) there will be a massive increase in viewing activity for both rental and sales properties.

“This activity will take a while before it manifests as actual business. I expect house prices to, at least flatline, perhaps even decrease a little for a few months, but then I expect prices and volumes to increase significantly by the year-end. The smart estate agents will have a number of business plans ready to respond to whatever happens.”

May 1, 2020

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