The Government has now given the green light for house moves to go ahead, after months of transactions being put on hold due to the coronavirus lockdown.
It’s not business as usual: house moves can only go ahead if all involved – from estate agents and conveyancing solicitors to vendors and buyers – are kept safe.
Jennifer Prysiaznyj explains the practicalities of moving under lockdown.
Finding / selling a house
Much of the preparation can be done – like always – via email and telephone. For those looking to get their property on the market, documents can be gathered together such as title documents, planning permission and warranties. Estate agents are allowed to visit a property to take photographs and will follow steps to ensure safety.
The Government is recommending that viewings are undertaken virtually where possible. If that can’t be done there are steps which can be taken to ensure the safety of all concerned.
For instance, sellers may be expected to vacate the property prior to a viewing, and perhaps leave windows and internal doors open. Viewers will be warned by estate agents not to touch anything and owners will need to give surfaces like door handles and stair bannisters a wipe afterwards.
Instructing a solicitor
As with many other businesses, most solicitors are working from home to protect employees and clients. However, modern law firms should have the infrastructure and technology necessary to continue operating remotely and deal with legal matters as ‘normally’ as possible.
Clients will be expected to post or email identity documents and arrange to hold a video call with their solicitors – this will allow them to comply with professional obligations in relation to client identity. The rest of the matter can continue as you would expect, via email, post and phone.
Some documents necessary for the move need to be witnessed – this can be any adult not related to those involved or to the transaction, so people are able to arrange for this to be done by a colleague or neighbour (ensuring proper social distancing).
The Government is recommending that people move themselves wherever possible, but of course this isn’t always practical. Removal firms are therefore allowed to operate, providing they comply with stringent health and safety guidance.
Due to the current circumstances, it’s possible there may be delays in the process – some people have experienced delays with mortgage offers and local authority searches for instance, but these seem to be easing. There may also be issues around illness and self-isolation, or perhaps redundancy and other financial matters.
Once contracts are exchanged, the transaction and completion date are legally binding on all parties. If completion does not take place on the completion date, then there are legal and financial consequences for the defaulting party. Despite this, exchanging contracts provides comfort and security for booking removals.
Nevertheless, exchanging contracts in the current climate could be risky due to the many reasons why completion could be delayed. There are contract clauses available for negotiation which will prevent action being taken for breach of contract due to delays caused by coronavirus, but our view is that these clauses are complex and untested.
We would therefore recommend a simultaneous exchange and completion wherever possible.
For further advice on this or other residential property issues, call Jennifer Prysiaznyj on 0161 761 4611 or email her at email@example.com