How the Rural Property and Lettings Market has Fared in 2020 - H&H Land & Estates sees encouraging sales in the second half of the year and is optimistic moving into 2021

Colin Tomlinson

With 2020 now coming to an end, H&H Land & Estates reflects on what has been a year like no other in the rural, residential and lettings property market. As one of the leading firms of independent rural property advisors across the North of England, the company highlights key factors which have helped the year go better than anticipated, despite the challenges offered up by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Firstly, reflecting on the past year in terms of sales, Colin Tomlinson, Managing Director for H&H Land & Estates, highlighted:  

Though it goes without saying that 2020 has proved a turbulent time for the majority of us, I am thankful to report that overall we have still managed to have a good year at H&H Land & Estates. With the Stamp Duty holiday giving a positive injection into the property market,  we saw sales pick up considerably after the first lockdown and business has been particularly strong in the second half of the year. This is not just as a result of property transactions though - it is also a real testament to our team’s adaptability, knowledge and hard work.  

Although our doors were physically closed through that initial lockdown, we continued to operate and developed strategies to ensure that we were able to continue progressing sales. Along with the many sales, there has been plenty of property coming to market and prices being achieved are on a par with last year.” 

In the second half of the year, we have seen a real surge in demand for rural property and  the peace and privacy offered by countryside residencies. Lockdown was an incredibly difficult time for so many, and forced a huge number of people to revaluate their lifestyle choices. Out of city properties which offered space and seclusion suddenly seemed more attractive than ever, which was certainly reflected in demand for properties in rural locations. Additionally, this year we have seen work patterns change beyond recognition. Houses offering studies or the potential for home office space are proving increasingly attractive to buyers, and with working from home now the new norm for so many people, we expect this trend is here to stay. 

Factors which are significantly influencing the current market are the very low interest rates and availability of good mortgage deals, combined of course with the temporary stamp duty holiday introduced in July. There has been a continuing enthusiasm to take advantage of this opportunity, and rightly so, as the rate of stamp duty was cut to zero per cent for every property under £500,000. Though it would be fantastic if the Government decided to continue this, I have my reservations. So realistically, until this comes to a close around the end of March, no one is going to have a clear feel for what the property market will be like going forward, and what the resulting implications may be.  

At H&H Land & Estates, we have always had a significant database of people looking for property. Thankfully, this does not seem to have been affected by the fact that we have not had our offices open for walk-ins this year.  In fact, we are often receiving enquires about new properties within minutes of them going live on our website, which reflects the current state of demand in our highly sought-after rural areas. One property recently had four viewings within the first two hours of its virtual launch, and within two days the sale was agreed!

Considering some of the key factors which have allowed the company to navigate new challenges encountered this year, Colin continued: 

Working practices have changed considerably and one area in particular which has really allowed us to excel has been digital technology. The team has really taken these powerful new digital tools in their stride this year, and this digitalisation has helped streamline our processes, from agreeing sales to completion. Buyers now are very accepting of virtual viewings for instance – a game-changing way of offering and promoting new properties. 

With sales buoyant, it is unfortunate that we are currently experiencing delays with local authority searches, which is holding up the sales progression. Usually we work on a three-month timeline from agreed sales to completion, however our teams are now advising that realistically it will be at least four months.   

Reporting on the lettings side of the business, Sarah Gemmell, Lettings Manager for the North Lakes, said:  

This has been the busiest year our property lettings department has ever seen and certainly when COVID first hit, we did not anticipate this level of interest. The market is hugely buoyant, and there is a huge shortage of properties coming forward to rent. Currently we have three to four times the amount of people on our waiting lists than we have had in the past. Everything from flats to detached lifestyle houses are being snapped up almost as soon as they are launched. 

This year we have experienced a growth in rental values of in the region of 5% for all types of property. Some of this growth is down to shortages, however where we have seen the highest growth is for detached spacious family homes, with people prepared to pay the premium that comes with more space. 

Lockdown certainly gave people time to reassess and reflect on their work-life balance, which has resulted in people looking for more outdoor space and a chance to restructure their lifestyles. We’ve seen a whole range of people coming from semi-rural areas or from city centres all over the UK, either looking to relocate because of retirement, or to change their circumstances and shift to working from home. 

Looking ahead to the coming year, Colin concluded: 

2020 has been a year that no one would have been able to foresee. Although we have encountered new challenges, this past year has importantly shown us the power companies have to adapt and develop. Embracing change has demonstrated that we can run our property agencies by providing both virtual and in-person experiences, both which I believe are essential to future-proof our business and lay the foundations for the next generation. 

Lifestyle choices and working patterns are changing for buyers, and new digital tools are making the process easier in many respects for sellers. As such, as confidence begins to grow again, we will hopefully see more people returning to the property market in 2021.”  

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