Rightmove (RMV.L) has warned property sales have started to fall through and the market is facing a sharp slowdown in activity.
The online property giant said a growing number of property transactions had failed to complete in recent days. “The speed of the slowdown in the UK housing market has been significant,” it said in a statement released on Friday.
It marks one of the clearest signs yet of the impact the coronavirus has begun to have on the property sector.
Yahoo Finance UK revealed evidence of cancelled viewings last week amid fears and government guidance over face-to-face contact, as well as wider economic uncertainty deterring transactions and building work.
Rightmove warned of a “sudden challenge” for estate and letting agents, and said the government’s recent announcement of new protections for renters could exacerbate their troubles.
The UK’s biggest property site had recently offered to defer the payments agents and housebuilders use to put their properties on its platform.
But on Friday it went further, slashing their bills by 75% for the next four months from April. It said the move came after “extensive dialogue” with many customers, and was firmly in the interest of its own shareholders.
Rightmove will take a hit of between £65m ($75m) and £75m this year because of the measures, it said. The company will also “continue to innovate” to support buyers and sellers to move, suggesting further new measures could be on the cards.
CEO Peter Brooks-Johnson said: “At Rightmove we are doing everything in our power to rise to the challenges of COVID-19. We have chosen to utilise our position to support our customers at this difficult time.”
One estate agent sounded a more optimistic note for the sector last week, however.
Nick Leeming, chair of Jackson-Stops, a UK estate agent with 40 offices nationwide, said fewer people holidaying abroad this summer meant the sector “could perhaps see an increase in activity in this traditionally slower period.”