UK property searches hit a record with end of lockdown near

Market push: The UK property market may get a further boost from next week’s budget, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak expected to extend tax relief on purchases. — Bloomberg

SEARCHES for houses in the UK hit a record last week with the end of the third national lockdown in sight.

Property website Rightmove recorded its busiest ever day on Feb 17 ahead of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that the government will lift restrictions to contain the virus. The market may get a further boost from next week’s budget, when Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to extend tax relief on purchases through July.

The report suggests a revival in the housing market that started in the second half of 2020 may pick up momentum. People told to stay at home for months are seeking to gain space and move away from urban centres, defying a jump in unemployment and the biggest economic slump in three centuries.

Activity has been bolstered by a holiday on stamp duty charged on purchases of properties, which saved buyers up to £15,000 (US$21,200). That’s due to expire at the end of next month, but there are reports that Sunak is set to prolong the exemption.

Rightmove also indicated a lack of housing supply that may help bolster prices. It found a 21% reduction on the number of new properties being listed from a year ago.

Inquiries about commercial properties also hit a new high. That suggests businesses are preparing to move into new spaces once there’s easing of measures that closed many shops and offices.

The possibility of overseas travel returning has also driven a jump in searches for foreign property, with Spain’s Denia, Costa del Sol and Tenerife proving most popular.

The government has detailed a four-step plan for England that aims to reopen schools from March 8, outdoor hospitality from mid-April and sports stadiums by mid-May. From June 21 all remaining businesses will resume operations and rules on social contact could be scrapped.

Sentiment is also improving among employers, according to a separate report from Recruitment & Employment Confederation. Both their confidence in their ability to hire new staff and intention to take on permanent workers rose in the three months to January 2021, even as they said the were less optimistic about the wider economy. — Bloomberg.

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