Mark Hayward, former Wycombe estate agent, now managing director of the National Association of Estate Agents is urging homebuyers to sit tight until the killer virus is no longer a threat.

More than 80 per cent of the UK’s 25,000 estate agents are small businesses. Most have shut up shop for the time being although sales and lettings staff can usually be contacted through their website, email or phone.

The NAEA chief estimated that viewings slumped by 50 per cent during the first few days of the outbreak.

To get an idea of how far buyers and sellers in Bucks have responded to government guidelines to delay moving, we asked two local estate agents– one small independent, one medium sized - and a major housebuilder based in Beaconsfield how they’re handling the situation.

Nik Keegan and Lenny White are partners in Keegan White, a two-office estate agency with a branch in Wycombe and another in Hazlemere. This is their assessment:

“Our daily activities now are to manage existing sales as far as we can through to point of exchange of contracts.

“Online inquiries are still coming in through Zoopla. We’re list-building these so that as soon as restrictions are lifted we will have a bank of immediate viewings, though whether lenders return as quickly remains to be seen.

“We contemplated the talked about video tours and elected not to waste our time. This may sound a bit apathetic but prospective buyers will still want to visit the property before making a decision and even if they do want to go ahead, there are no surveyors about to visit the property to assess the mortgage application. Most solicitors are working remotely and doing the best they can but even standard conveyancing work is being delayed.”

The majority of determined buyers may still have other hurdles to clear, says the Wycombe estate agent. The choice of mortgages isn’t as healthy as it was. Many lenders drawing funds from overseas markets which are also in turmoil aren’t out to attract new business. The only exceptions are applicants who can afford to pay upwards of 40 per cent of the purchase price out of their own reserves, reducing the risk for the lender.

Chris Moorhouse, head of the residential sales team at Savills in Beaconsfield, says government advice is clear. People should avoid moving house unless absolutely necessary. To arrive at a successful result, many buyers will need to change tactics.

The country house agent explains: “Where people are midway through a transaction but have not yet exchanged, they will need to ask for an extended completion date – the longer into the future the better.

“There should be flexibility built in to either complete earlier or later should the whole chain agree.

“If it is absolutely necessary to complete, there are two possibilities. Either try to delay completion or everyone completes but remains in their homes until an agreed date. This is sometimes a more complicated route to go down as there are potential insurance and possible lending issues but the advantage is that everyone knows where they stand and the transaction has completed.”

Inland Homes says all office-based staff are working from home and all sales centres have closed on current sites including Centre Square, the multi-million pound development on the west side of Wycombe’s town centre.

A spokesperson for the Beaconsfield-based developer said: “We are in close communication through phone and email with those buying to keep the process going as much as possible. Currently we’re offering a discounted £99 reservation fee across all sites.”

Solicitor Phil Hind, senior associate in the real estate department at Gerrards Cross law firm B P Collins urges buyers and sellers to read the small print.

“In cases where contracts have already been exchanged and there are no specific provisions dealing with the outbreak, government guidance strongly suggests all parties should agree a timeframe to extend a completion date.”

“There is currently no outright blanket extension. Both sides will still be obligated to complete on the agreed date unless they agree an extension.”

To hold water, the new date will need to be documented.

“There is an element of good faith needed by all parties to assist in these unprecedented times,” sums up the solicitor.