Latest advice on moving during lockdown
The government last night (25th March) made a further announcement of how lockdown measures apply to house moves.
The Housing Minister Robert Jenrick MP said on Twitter:
Buyers & renters should, as far as possible, delay moving to a new house while emergency measures are in place
If you’re socially isolating or being shielded, it’s important to try to delay. Other parties should show pragmatism
If moving is unavoidable because you’re contracted and the parties aren’t able to agree a delay, you must follow advice on social distancing when moving
Elsewhere a government spokesperson has been quoted promising further guidance will be published on this in due course, but where moves do need to go ahead all individuals involved should take care to follow Government guidance on social distancing and hygiene. Public Health England’s latest guidance can be found heWe’re in troubling times. So much can change in a few days. On Monday (16 March) Rightmove announced figures that show that up until very recently, the housing market was enjoying quite the spring bounce. Average new seller asking prices hit a record high, and the number of sales agreed was up by 17.8%, with the highest number of transactions at this time of year since 2016, and average times to get to sales agreed speeding up. So the chances are, a lot of people were in the midst of a house sale or purchase when the pandemic was declared last week, when the stock markets started to plummet and events started to be cancelled. If you’re hoping to complete on your transaction in the next few days or weeks, here’s what to watch out for.
Expect more to be done digitally Throughout property transactions, physical documents such as Land Registry forms, reports and contracts are changed hands numerous times. You can expect all parties involved to move to a more secure digital document transfer system, email and document sharing platforms. So expect to receive your documentation by email or onlinerather than hard copies in the post. Make sure password protection is used and avoid possible security breaches by speaking to the person to whom you are sending documents – and especially money – before you press send. Electronic signatures are valid under English law to execute or sign documents, so don’t be concerned if your conveyancer opts for this. See our guide on property fraud for more details.
Specific delays you may encounter Given these uncertain times, it will not be unexpected for some buyers or sellers to get “cold feet” – if you sense that this could be the case in your transaction, it’s worth speaking to your conveyancer about your concerns so that no one’s time – or money – is wasted. In order to make sure your sale or purchase does happen, the key thing is to get through to exchange (when parties are contractually bound and the deposit is paid) and completion (the day the balance of the payment is made and ownership changes hands).
After exchange If completion does not take place after contracts have been exchanged due to COVID-19, then your conveyancer will need to look at the contract provisions about breach and advise whether a seller failing to complete can be compelled to do so – and whether, in the case of a buyer failing to complete, the seller can keep the deposit and additional costs. In reality, if the failure to complete is due to illness or self isolation, we would hope that the parties would all work together to come to a reasonable agreement regarding delay. If the transaction forms part of a chain of transactions, it may not be possible to take such a view without incurring a penalty. Speak to your conveyancing solicitor These are unprecedented times. Get your conveyancer’s view on your transaction and try to act in a way that is fair to everyone, especially if you’re in a chain. Everyone is facing the same issues so remember to be considerate, accommodating and sympathetic where you can. Booking your remover The British Association of Removers’s advice is crystal clear – that all moves should be cancelled or postponed for the next 3 weeks. If you cannot delay your move and you cannot find a removal firm willing to take the work on, you could rent a van and enlist friends to help, as long as you follow the social distancing guidelines. On moving day We’ve had lots of nervous buyers contact us at HomeOwners Alliance. One suggestion for moving day which might help put you at ease is getting a deep clean of the property once it has been vacated.
Applying this guidance
This advice is still very unclear. But we would advise:
If you’ve already exchanged contracts you are legally committed to complete the transaction – so try to complete and move in asap. Speak to your conveyancer/solicitor urgently and your buyer and/or seller. Try to come to a fair and reasonable way forward. Be aware that you may struggle with removals – speak to your removals company asap.
The Law Society has issued advice to member firms that “If you’re acting for someone who has exchanged contracts and has a completion date within the next few days, and you, your client and the other side are able to proceed, which may be very difficult given the position with removal firms, there’s currently nothing to prevent you doing so.” However, law firms are likely to be struggling to handle the cases they have between exchange and completion which are now more complicated, alongside the implications of having reduced staff and working from home.
For all sales and purchases that have not yet exchanged: if you can delay then do. For how long, we just don’t know.
Rented: If you are in a rental hoping to move into your home speak to your landlord asap to extend your tenancy.
The British Association of Removals (BAR), has strongly recommended members to complete any moves that are already underway and cancel or suspend any that haven’t yet commenced. It has said though that the final decision on whether to proceed lays with the individual companies.
If you’re thinking of starting on your journey to buy or sell a house, then don’t. Now is clearly not the time!