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Would you rent a property without seeing it first in lockdown?

Voice Of EU



The idea of renting a property without seeing it first would have seemed nonsensical for many prospective tenants a year ago.

Most would have thought that only by seeing it for themselves could they check what they were signing up for and whether their new home fulfilled their wish list.

But since the beginning of the first lockdown in March, we’ve had to change how we approach things, and that includes – for some people – how to rent a property.

Some are opting to rent without ever having been in the property and we spoke to one for whom it wasn’t an agent’s flashy virtual viewing that swung it, but the existing tenant’s home video. 

Would you rent a flat in this block next to Wembley Stadium in North London without seeing it in person first? See the case study below to find out about a couple who did just that

Would you rent a flat in this block next to Wembley Stadium in North London without seeing it in person first? See the case study below to find out about a couple who did just that

The global pandemic and the temporary closure of the property market meant that moving home was almost impossible – apart from in the most exceptional circumstances.

And even once the property market opened again, the new restrictions in place – such as social distancing – meant things were approached differently, including initial viewings online and a limited number of people at those viewings that did take place in real life.

As a result, although virtual viewings have previously been occasionally raised for propsective tenants and buyers with varying degrees of success, they are now far more heavily promoted – and accepted. 

Virtual viewing: Camilla Churchill rented a property in London without seeing it in person first

Virtual viewing: Camilla Churchill rented a property in London without seeing it in person first

This is particularly the case among tenants and some are choosing to rent a home for the next year or longer, without ever having been in the property.

We spoke to some tenants who only saw their rented property in person when they collected the keys, and found out how approaching a rental in this way had worked out for them.  

Camilla Churchill, 29, rented a place in London’s Greenwich with her boyfriend, having previously lived in a house share.  

She said: ‘My boyfriend and I lived in New Cross with two other friends. When the first lockdown hit we wanted to extend our lease for a few months but our landlord didn’t let us. 

‘We went to two viewings in person but the opportunity for more quickly tapered off and we had to rely on dodgy fisheye lens photos or poor quality videos online.’ 

But she went on to explain: ‘We struck gold with our current flat as after speaking with the agents, the tenants filmed us a video of their own. 

The tenants filmed us a video of their own… they filmed every nook and cranny

‘They filmed every nook and cranny from every angle and explained which furniture would be left for us.’

But did an online viewing provide the information required to lead to a successful rental?

She said: ‘It answered so many questions. The property is even better than it looked in the original listing and we are so glad we took the gamble.’

Renting a new build 

Another  couple we spoke to had moved into a new build one-bedroom flat in north London – again rented without ever visiting the property.

Pictured: Couple Kristin and Oliver rented their flat on the basis of a virtual viewing only

Pictured: Couple Kristin and Oliver rented their flat on the basis of a virtual viewing only

Kristin Tamm, 44, a TV producer and her partner Oliver, 36, a technical engineer, were living in Germany when they signed up to the rental.

They wanted to live and work in London, and made the leap in August 2019. Kristin explained: ‘I initially saw the block of flats on Instagram and then contacted the agent about having a virtual viewing.

‘I saw five different flats at the site on FaceTime, while I was sat in Munich.’

‘I was travelling twice a year to London and decided to make it my permanent home with my boyfriend.’

They paid six-months rent in advance, signing a tenancy agreement for that period and paying a total of £13,000 upfront.

Would she do it again? She doesn’t hesitate in responding with an emphatic ‘yes’. 

Indeed, at the end of their initial six-month contract, they signed up for a further year. They are currently in a one-bed flat and would like to move to a two-bed flat at the same site, so that they have space for friends and family to stay over once covid restrictions allow.

The couple's flat in a development in North London was rented fully furnished

The couple’s flat in a development in North London was rented fully furnished

The flat is in a so-called new Build to Rent block of flats, developed by Quintain. Such Build-to-Rent developments are made for the sole purpose of renting out the flats and none are available to buy.

The appeal of this London Wembley Park development is that tenants pay no deposit to rent a flat there, while utility bills and broadband are included in the monthly rental costs.

Prices range from £1,450 a month for a studio to £3,145 for a three-bed flat. Tenants are allowed pet dogs and cats, for an extra monthly fee, with costs varying from £50 a month for a dog and £30 a month for a cat. 

Kristin added: ‘Everything was set up when we arrived, It was furnished, with pictures on the wall. We were the first to live in the flat and it was clean and tidy. There were no surprises and everything was as we expected.’ 

She said if she could improve anything it would to be more central despite the underground only taking 15 minutes to Baker Street and she would also like to be closer to a large area of open green space – although the development does have a communal roof garden. 

The development in North London has a communal roof garden that tenants can use

The development in North London has a communal roof garden that tenants can use

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How do you feel about the new carbon budgets?

Voice Of EU



We want to hear your views on the proposed new carbon budgets which, the Government says, will change how people live and work. The proposed budgets, published by the Climate Change Advisory Council, will apply to every sector of the economy and will outline a limit for total emissions that can be released.

The first carbon budget, which will run from 2021 to 2025, will see emissions reduce by 4.8 per cent on average each year for five years. The second budget, which will run from 2026 to 2030, will see emissions reduce by 8.3 per cent on average each year for five years. The council says the budgets will require “transformational changes for society” but that failing to act would have “grave consequences”. Environmental campaigners say the budgets will provide a cleaner, healthier and safer future but some rural groups such as the Irish Farmers’ Association say they will have “serious repercussions”.

How do you feel about the new carbon budgets?

Now we’d like to hear your views: Do you support the budgets or are you against them; do they go too far or not far enough?

We will publish a selection of your responses online (If you are reading this on the Irish Times app, click here to access the form for submissions).

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House sales shoot up a THIRD in September amid fears of mortgage rate hike

Voice Of EU



The number of homes bought and sold in Britain rose by two thirds in September compared to August, with experts believing buyers are seeking to get ahead of a potential rise in mortgage rates. 

There were nearly 161,000 property transactions in September on a seasonally-adjusted basis, a 67.5 per cent increase on the previous month, according to latest figures from HMRC. 

They also increased by 68 per cent compared to September 2020, and 63 per cent compared to the ‘normal’ market average in September 2017 to 2019.

The cost of a mortgage could be set to increase, if the Bank of England base rate rises

The cost of a mortgage could be set to increase, if the Bank of England base rate rises

Experts say the sharp rise was only partly a result of the Government’s stamp duty holiday, which has fuelled price growth of around £25,000 in the last year but finally ended on 30 September. 

It initially allowed buyers to save up to £15,000 in taxes as they did not need to pay stamp duty on the portion of their property purchase under £500,000. 

But in September, the tax break would have had a more subdued effect.

In England and Northern Ireland, it was tapered down between July and September so that buyers could only save £2,500.

And the holiday had already expired in Scotland and Wales, on 31 March and 30 June respectively. 

Given that the impact of the stamp duty holiday was lessening, some suggest that other factors have become more important in maintaining high levels of activity in the housing market. 

There are a number of things at play, according to Lawrence Bowles, senior research analyst at Savills.

‘There’s more to this activity than a stamp duty holiday: record-low mortgage rates, desire for more space, and a core of unmet pent up demand all continue to push up transaction volumes,’ he says. 

Although it is one of several reasons why the housing market remains hot, the desire for a cheap mortgage has become more of a pressing issue for buyers in recent days and weeks. 

This is because speculation about a rise in the Bank of England’s base rate has threatened an increase in the current super-low rates.

At the moment, rates are available as low as 0.89 per cent – but they are already rising. At its lowest, the cheapest fixed rate on the market was 0.84 per cent.

Major lenders including NatWest, HSBC and Barclays have all moved to increase rates on some mortgages, after months of sustained falls. 

With a base rate rise being predicted by some for December, experts are suggesting that the threat of mortgage rates going up is the ‘new stamp duty holiday’ and that the rush to complete sales before rates rise is now keeping the housing market buoyant.

Simon Bath, chief executive of technology company iPlace Global which created the property advice app Moveable, says: ‘We have reached another crossroads in which following the stamp duty holiday, there is another potential deadline for Brits to prepare for.

‘It seems likely that house prices will continue to rise before demand slows down, as Brits race to obtain lower mortgage rates.’

Rising costs: Those buying homes have seen the typical sale price increase by £5,000 in the last month alone, according to data from the property platform Rightmove

Rising costs: Those buying homes have seen the typical sale price increase by £5,000 in the last month alone, according to data from the property platform Rightmove 

Early statistics back his price rise theory up. According to Rightmove’s latest house price index, which covers the first half of October, the average house price jumped £5,000 compared to the previous month. 

In addition, every UK region broke asking price records for the first time since March 2007.

The property portal noted in its report: ‘The continued fast turnover of property for sale and a window of opportunity to buy before a potential interest rate rise seem to have overcome the final expiry of all stamp duty incentives and are keeping activity robust.’

This trend is keeping the market buoyant for now, but could it really lead to another buying frenzy? Iain McKenzie, chief executive of The Guild of Property Professionals, says so. 

‘With demand for properties still high, and a potential mortgage rate rise on the horizon, this could be the perfect storm to see another frenzy to buy, so long as the shortage of stock doesn’t continue,’ he says. 

There is also the simple fact that people who were trying to meet the September stamp duty deadline, but failed, are unlikely to abandon their purchases, and will continue to add to the totals over the coming months. 

But others are less sure about talk of another buying boom. With the base rate rise only tipped to be from 0.1 per cent to 0.25 per cent, the difference in people’s mortgage payments may only be a few pounds per month. 

For example, for someone with a £120,000, two-year fixed rate mortgage on a £200,000 home, the difference between a 0.89 per cent rate and a 1.04 per cent rate would be just over £8 a month, or just under £200 across the fixed period. 

Office for National Statistics data showing house price increases over the past 15 years

Office for National Statistics data showing house price increases over the past 15 years

Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, says: ‘People will still move without stamp duty holidays and will continue to refinance their homes, whether mortgage rates are below 1 per cent or around 2 per cent.

‘Borrowers are keen to secure these historically-low mortgage rates but if the right property comes along, they are still likely to buy even if they have to pay say 15 basis points more and won’t qualify for a stamp duty holiday.’

But as the stamp duty holiday proved, the psychological impact of thinking you are saving money can be powerful, even when the actual cash saving is negligible. 

While buyers did indeed ‘save’ up to £15,000 in tax, house price rises during the stamp duty holiday were upwards of £20,000, eclipsing the actual saving.   

The true impact that the mooted rise in mortgage rates will have depends on myraid factors, including whether there is further clarity on if and when the base rate change might actually happen, and how mortgage lenders continue to respond to the situation. 

All eyes will be on the October transaction statistics and house price indices to see whether the market is remaining buoyant. 

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Covid grips Europe’s unvaccinated east

Voice Of EU



Hospitals are struggling to cope as Covid-19 sweeps through large unvaccinated populations in central and eastern Europe, where low levels of trust impeded acceptance of inoculation programmes.

Austria, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands and others have teamed up to send oxygen supplies, medicines and ventilators to Romania after it appealed for help from the European Union to cope with a crushing fourth wave of the pandemic.

Just 36 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated in the country, according to EU figures, the second-lowest level in the union after Bulgaria, where the rate is just one in four adults, far below the pan-EU rate of 75 per cent.

Both countries are suffering a brutal surge of infections, hospitalisations and deaths. Romania has seen an average of more than 400 deaths a day for the past week, in a population of 19 million, the highest rate in the EU according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. In Bulgaria, in a population of seven million, more than 100 people have died on average each day for the past week.

Romania on Monday imposed a night-time curfew, shut schools and introduced mandatory Covid-19 passes for most public venues in a bid to curb the soaring infections as its intensive-care wards ran out of beds.

Reimpose restrictions

Infections are also soaring in the Baltic states of Lithuania and Latvia, which became the first European country to reimpose sweeping restrictions last week by shutting schools and all non-essential shops, and imposing a curfew from 8pm to 5am for a month. Restrictions were also tightened in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia.

In neighbouring Russia, daily Covid-19 infections reached a record high of 37,930 in 24 hours on Monday, and some regions shut workplaces in response.

World Health Organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that with 50,000 Covid-19 deaths a week the pandemic was “far from over”, but he said it would end “when the world chooses to end it”.

“It is in our hands. We have all the tools we need,” he said. “Unlike so many other health challenges, we can prevent this. Complacency is now as dangerous as the virus.”

 In Austria, where 73 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated, chancellor Alexander Schallenberg warned that restrictions could be placed on the unvaccinated if Covid-19 patients began to take up the country’s ICU capacity.

“The pandemic is not yet in the rear view mirror,” Mr Schallenberg said. “We are about to stumble into a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

He warned that if Covid-19 patients took up a quarter of national ICU beds, then only the vaccinated or people who had recovered from the virus would be allowed entry into restaurants and hotels. If the percentage reached a third, the unvaccinated would be allowed to leave home only for specific reasons.

Vaccination rates have reached above 90 per cent for those eligible in several countries in western Europe including Ireland, though coverage is lower in some cities and particular populations.


This is helping to keep hospitalisations under control, but infections are still rising and many countries have opted to continue with some precautions including mask-wearing, working from home recommendations, and mandatory Covid-19 passes in public settings. Last week, Italy made the passes mandatory for workplaces.

The WHO warned last week that Europe region was the only region in which Covid-19 cases were rising, led by surges in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

Emergencies chief Dr Mike Ryan appealed for the unvaccinated to come forward for jabs, and said the rise in infections came as restrictions were dropped in many countries, coinciding with “the winter period, in which people are moving inside as the cold snaps appear”.

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