I viewed a property for sale as lockdown was easing and the estate agent did not have a mask or gloves – while I was wearing both.
I went on to buy the terrace house, with the agreement that the property was cleaned professionally as it previously had tenants in it.
My request for proof of the professional clean – in the form of a receipt – was declined, with the buyer claiming it was carried out by their private cleaner.
The property remained dirty – included an unflushed toilet – when I went to collect the keys on finally purchasing the property. What are the rules on viewings and presenting cleaned properties during the coronavirus pandemic?
There are strict guidelines in place for the housing market after it reopened on May 13 following the lockdown
MailOnline Property expert Myra Butterworth replies: It is distressing to hear about your viewing and experience of buying a property during the coronavirus pandemic.
There are strict guidelines in place for the housing market after it reopened on May 13 following the lockdown.
For example, the Government says those viewing a property need to wash their hands and viewings can only involve members of a single household.
Without these safety measures in place, viewings are not meant to take place, with most agents adhering to the new guidelines.
NAEA Propertymark, the body that represents estate agents has gone a step further, advising everyone at a viewing to wear gloves and face coverings.
It has previously warned that if its members failed to adhere to its guidelines, the Government may decide to lockdown the housing market once again.
However, this week, it told MailOnline Property that it ‘is unable to take disciplinary action against members on this issue’.
Mark Hayward, of NAEA Propertymark, said: The guidance we have provided on property viewings during Covid-19 has been created to overlay Government guidance on house moves and outline the highest standards of best practice to members.
We recommend that members adhere to these safety measures, but we are unable to take disciplinary action against members on this issue. If consumers are uncomfortable about the safety measures in place during a viewing they should feel empowered to speak out.
As always, we continue to stress the importance of all members following the guidelines as closely as possible to ensure the safety of all parties.’
People are encouraged to wear masks and gloves during house viewings
Myra Butterworth adds: Those viewing a property need to decide what they are comfortable with as a buyer and set their own boundaries – this may include asking the estate agent to wear a mask or not stepping into the house if they refuse.
Obviously, this would not be in an agent’s interests to decline such a sensible reques,t as they could potential miss out on a potential sale, and so hopefully this would be enough to make them wear the appropriate protection.
That said, the risk may vary around the country and according to the type of property you are visiting.
For example, if the property is a mansion in the countryside that has evidently been professionally cleaned, you may be less worried about the risk of catching, or spreading, coronavirus as it is relatively easy to socially distance in this situation.
This may be in contrast to viewing a terrace townhouse or flat in the heart of a town or city. In these circumstances, you may have the added risk of passing potentially dozens of people just to reach the property – such as travelling public transport.
However, the guidelines from NAEA Propertymark are clear that estate agents should be wearing masks and gloves.
The Government also says all surfaces should be cleaned after a viewing. However, there is no legal obligation to prove the property has been cleaned.
In this case, it seems that you were unfortunately the victim of a seller who said one thing and did another.
Perhaps your lawyer was able to get some money off the price to allow for the cleaning that was not done – and then hopefully you will have been able to pay for some professional cleaners to do the work once you had collected the keys and before you moved into the house.
We asked some estate agents for their views on how best viewings should proceed and what actions are taken if masks are not worn. One agent declined to comment.
Jeremy Leaf, a north London estate agent, said: We are following strict guidelines on viewings and going above and beyond what is requested as we find that most of our vendors and landlords want to see this. Everyone wears masks and gloves on viewings and we are handing them out where they are not available.
We find that those attending a viewing like to know what to expect so we email the seller and the prospective buyer beforehand, setting out what our requirements are, what we expect of them and what they can expect of us so it is very clear. We find that most customers embrace that and are very happy to go along with it.
If we were to find that people ignore our requests – i.e. vendors refuse to vacate the property or at least remove themselves to another part of it, or buyers refuse to wear masks and gloves -, then we will cancel the viewing but so far we have not had to do that.
We are very mindful of the fact that another lockdown would be bad news for the market – business has picked up a lot and we wouldn’t want to do anything to compromise that or contribute to the need for the Government to make the rules stricter. We believe most agents take the same stance. We have been told by some vendors and potential buyers that we are stricter than others but we don’t mind that.
Guy Gittins, of estate agents Chestertons, said: With masks and other precautions now part of our everyday lives, most people are more than happy to follow our viewings guidelines which have been designed to help us protect both our clients and staff.
Since May, the market has also become increasingly competitive, with far more buyers looking than there are properties available, so people know that they need to follow our guidelines in order to give themselves the best chance of securing a property.
We do of course have instances where people forget to bring their masks, in which case we will provide them. If, for whatever reason, someone is unwilling to wear a mask or follow our guidelines we are still able to offer video and virtual viewings, but under no circumstances will we put our clients or staff at any unnecessary risk.