We strongly advise students to consider postponing house hunting/viewings in Semester 1 because:
- Since 5th November 2020 we have had to adhere to national lockdown restrictions due to the high number of Coronavirus cases. Prior to this Newcastle had been on Tier 2 of the Government tiered system of restrictions. We do not know if the lockdown will be extended or whether we will revert to localised restrictions on the tiered system. You need to be fully aware of the restrictions in place at any given time.
- First year undergraduates have had a very restricted basis for meeting and making friends and potential future flatmates. You might not wish to live with people you have been living with in Halls.
- Tenants currently living in properties might be COVID positive, symptomatic or be genuinely very anxious about large numbers of people coming for viewings and seek to restrict all but those intent on signing a contract.
- You might be concerned about entering a property where you do not know if someone is ill, is self-isolating or if the property has been adequately cleaned and prepared for your viewing.
However, where restrictions permit, if you do consider house hunting, your experience is likely to be slightly different or adapted from ‘normal’ because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
There is current government guidance for landlords and tenants on how this should be conducted/approached safely. This generally advises against entering property unless it is absolutely necessary and where it is necessary for all social distancing measures to be checked and prepared ahead of any visits. If an agent showing you the property seems flippant about being covid safe, this might give you an indication about how professional and responsible they might be if they will be managing the property when you live in it!
At the start of lockdown in the Spring of 2020, lettings and estates agents addressed this dilemma of viewings by offering ‘virtual viewings’. This was a particularly useful tool as part of the casual browsing process on the part of the prospective tenant and as effective filtering process on the part of the agent saving time and money as well as minimising risk. It meant physical viewings could be reserved for where the person was ready to secure the property.
A virtual viewing offers an initial sense of the property and can be provided in a live video or pre-recorded footage. Beyond both lockdown and tiered restrictions virtual viewings are likely to become commonplace as they can be advantageous on several levels. However, reliance on virtual viewings as a sole means of decision should be avoided where at all possible.
Virtual viewings like all property promotion and advertisement, remain covered by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPR’s) and apply to all information given about a property regardless of whatever form that might take. If any information gives a misleading impression or information which a reasonable person would expect, then there is a potential breach of the CPRs if that would cause a person to make a ‘transactional decision’. Agents need to ensure material information is conveyed accurately. A breach of the CPR’s is a criminal offence and remedy could be a claim for damages and tenants could unwind the transaction possibly with the return of deposits/rent paid to date. Therefore, it is important to make a note of what is shown, said or given in terms of information.
As with physical viewings, virtual viewings equally need to be transparent and true to the real nature of the property. Any portrayal, in whatever form, should not be advantageous or touched up to present it more favourably or attempt to hide clearly negative features. Virtual viewings must offer a fair and balanced assessment of the property, including the negative aspects. Be very wary of businesses using disclaimers to absolve themselves as to how accurate the virtual viewings are regardless of whether they have created these themselves or have been provided them by the landlord. Either way, they are responsible for what is presented. There should also be information as to the date on which the recording was made. Regardless of whether a live or pre-recorded video, it is advisable that you ask for a download to be provided before you make any decisions and keep this copy.
So firstly, do you really need to look right now, or would it be possible to wait until some things may be less difficult?
Secondly, we imagine virtual viewings will be the norm for a while so treat them as a way of short-listing potential properties then only physically view where you are very interested and are keen to proceed.