Home valuations in lockdown: can I get my home valued, what is a virtual valuation and can I get a mortgage?

How different is a virtual valuation to a traditional in-person one?

House moves, physical viewings and in-person valuationsstarted again in England yesterday, effectively reopening the property market which had been frozen since lockdownbegan more than seven weeks ago.

London estate agents and housebuilders saw an immediate increase in enquiries from buyers and sellers since Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick’s announcement at 10 o’clock on Tuesday, while online property portal Rightmove reported a 45 per cent surge in visits yesterday morning compared to the same time the day before.

Since the Government’s “stay at home” guidance was issued on March 23, more than 450,000 property transactions have been put on hold, while 1.8 million people were not moving home because of the pandemic according to research by HomeOwners Alliance.

Chief executive Paula Higgins said: “The latest news will be a relief for those who have had their moves put on ice; and for those whose current living arrangement is not fit for purpose especially as our fight against the virus is far from over.”

She added: “With changes in working patterns set to be made permanent, people’s housing needs may very well change. People may start to value gardens and home offices over a hassle-free commute to work and this could have an impact on property valuations over the coming months and years.”

Will it be difficult to book a home valuation – and what is a virtual valuation?

In the weeks following the introduction of stringent lockdown measures, some estate agents have looked to virtual viewings and valuations as a way of keeping the property market afloat.

Usually involving a call with an agent over video platforms such as Zoom or FaceTime, although some owners prefer to send pre-recorded videos via WhatsApp, a virtual valuation involves a “tour” given by the owner to the estate agent – intended to include all the property features of value, ie. the number of bedrooms, the condition of the home, the storage available and outside space if applicable – much in the same way that an in-person valuation would be conducted.

While in-person property visits are now permitted so long as strict social distancing is adhered to, the number of viewings allowed per day is restricted.

Agents also have a backlog of valuation appointments from enquiries made during lockdown so many say virtual methods are likely to continue alongside traditional valuations for some time.

“They’ve been really successful for us,” said Steve Brown, branch manager of Winkworth Blackheath. “In the last two-and-a-half weeks we’ve done 27, in a few different ways.”

Most have been conducted over video calls, as more people are using platforms such as Zoom, while others have been owner-filmed video recordings of the property. “We’ve had a dozen or so instructions on the back of those valuations,” says Brown.

A two-bedroom flat in a period conversion in Quentin Road, within walking distance of Blackheath Village, is one such instruction to have gone on the market this week after its virtual valuation of £650,000.

The agent had images from a previous letting listing and the road, near the Winkworth office, is a popular one for sales: “I have sold or been into virtually every property on the street over the past 15 years and sold almost four identical properties over the past 15 months,” says Brown.

Ross Brien of Hamptons International reported similar activity across the company’s south-west and west London branches.

“We’ve done 72 virtual valuations since the start of lockdown and had 38 property instructions,” said Mr Brien, with agents offering house doctor-style appointments in order to advise potential sellers on small interiors changes they would or wouldn’t recommend doing to the property in order to boost chances of securing a sale.

“In some ways [with FaceTime appointments], it’s actually better, I get to see what’s really important to the sellers – they’ll really tell you about the view they love for example – which is important to know for appealing to the buyer coming in.”

How many valuations should I get?

Most people get two to five valuations done on their home before listing it for sale.

It depends on whether the property has been for sale in the past few years, whether the seller is familiar with recent local sales prices and whether their expectations are in line with those of buyers in this uncertain market.

What is a desktop mortgage and can I get one?

A “desktop mortgage” is a mortgage approval based on an automated valuation.

Mortgage lenders are able to offer desktop valuations, but the amount they can offer varies from lender to lender. Some will offer a mortgage restricted to 75 to 85 per cent loan-to-value.

The mortgage valuer looks at the property market value, and recent sales in the area, alongside other factors. This is fine if there have been lots of similar sales recently.

Desktop valuations aren’t always available on homes where too many variables mean the exact arrangement of a property can’t be determined without visiting in person. Common types of properties which may not be eligible for desktop valuations are new-build properties, flats and homes that have been extended or those of an unusual design.

Similarly, if the property is somewhat unique, or in an up-and-coming area, for instance, a valuer will have to visit it in person.

“Re-allowing surveyors to enter homes as long as a distance of two metres is maintained means that physical valuations can get going again,” says Miles Robinson, head of mortgages at online broker Trussle.

Blog Post from Homes & Property Evening Standard

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