The boss of housebuilder Persimmon, Dean Finch, has warned that the new, more contagious Covid-19 strain is “particularly bad” and that “it could well affect output in the spring of this year”.
At the moment, the number of workers who are off sick or self-isolating at Persimmon is only up slightly, but Mike Killoran, the finance director, said: “If we see a substantial increase in absenteeism, then it becomes more difficult to marshal resources” needed to be able to build houses.
Persimmon insisted that its building sites were safe, with strict physical distancing rules in place. It has issued a rule that only one person can work on each floor at any one time, and 500 “contravention officers” are making sure that workers stick to the rules. Persimmon tends to build two-to to three-bedroom houses.
The UK housing ministry said yesterday that while the housing market remained open for now, “it may become necessary to pause all home moves locally or nationally for a short period of time to manage the spread of coronavirus”.
Housebuilder shares fell yesterday and are down again today, with Persimmon dropping as much as 5%.
The property market ground to a halt during the first Covid-19 lockdown last spring when house moves were banned and building sites shut for several weeks, but reopened in June, and Persimmon’s weekly sales per site in the second half were 39% than a year earlier. Sales have been boosted by a stamp duty cut (but this expires at the end of March), as well as people moving to bigger homes in greener surroundings.
Finch, a former National Express chief executive who took the helm in June, said:
“We are clearly seeing customers look at how they want to live, where they want to live and whether they want to live in bigger houses as a result of the pandemic, and Persimmon is a beneficiary of that.”
Persimmon said forward sales were up 25% despite some delays to reservations as first-time buyers awaited the opening of the new help to buy scheme on 16 December. The company completed 13,575 homes in 2020, down from 15,855 in 2019, and revenues also fell, to £3.33bn from £3.65bn, although the average selling price was up 7% to £230,500.
It said in a statement:
“While the Group has achieved pre-Covid build rates since the end of June 2020, including during all subsequent lockdowns imposed in England, Scotland and Wales, we recognise the elevated risk to the Group’s planned build programmes presented by the higher transmission rates of the new variant of the Covid-19 virus.”