Moving Home During Coronavirus (Covid-19) Outbreak – Government Issues Guidance

The UK Government has issued new guidance for all parties involved with the home moving process in light of restrictions that have been imposed owing to the current Coronavirus outbreak.

Those restrictions generally include members of the public staying at home and away from others at all times, with even more specific measures introduced for those who are presenting symptoms of the disease, self-isolating or shielding, which could all naturally make the process of moving house far more difficult than usual.

The overriding principle of the Government’s new guidance is that the health of individuals and the public must always be the priority. As such, if the property you are moving into is vacant and you are able to move without coming into contact with others, you can still proceed with the purchase. However, if the property is occupied until completion, it is strongly recommended that the buyer and seller seek to agree an alternative completion date for some time in the future, by which time they expect the stay-at-home restrictions to have been lifted (although no estimated timescales are provided in the guidance). If your property is on the market but has not yet sold, you can continue to advertise it for sale, but you should not allow people in for viewings. Offers can be accepted, but it should be noted that the process will take longer than usual. In line with advice for certain businesses to close, estate agents should not open branches to the public during this period, or visit people’s homes to carry out market appraisals. For those selling ‘off-plan’, there is the opportunity to provide virtual tours of what the relevant property will look like and/or utilise the show property as an example.

In the event that the Conveyancing process has started, the property is occupied until completion and the parties cannot agree to a suitable alternative completion date (for example, for contractual reasons), the parties are still able to complete and move as planned, but they must do so whilst practicing social distancing as far as possible. Whilst the police have been given various powers by the Government in an attempt to respond to the outbreak and enforce the stay-at-home restrictions, there is currently an exemption for critical home moves, in the event that a new completion date is not able to be agreed.

To further assist house buyers in agreeing alternative completion dates with the other parties involved, where they have already exchanged contracts and set dates for completion, UK Finance has confirmed that they are working with all Mortgage lenders to discuss methods of enabling buyers to extend their Mortgage offers for a period of up to three months so that they can move at a later date without the offer expiring. However, this doesn’t provide any guarantees that an extension will be given by the particular lender, and the circumstances of the relevant buyer may have changed (such as their employment position), so buyers should approach this carefully, especially if they are in a chain.

Developers of new-build properties will need to consider whether or not to issue Notices to Complete on their buyers once the properties have been physically finished, and should bear in mind that where any completion date is delayed, the long-stop date for completion should be delayed too. In any event, it is possible that completion of the construction of new-build properties may be delayed past any anticipated timescales if contractors are unable to attend the site due to the stay-at-home restrictions which are in place.

The new guidance also provides some industry-specific advice for Surveyors, Estate Agents, Conveyancers and Removal Firms with a view to ensuring that all parties keep the Government’s principles in mind. The full guidance can be accessed on the Government website.

At this stage, it appears that the guidance is aimed firmly at private individuals selling their own homes. We have raised a query with Homes England as to whether or not it has any comments concerning the applicability of the guidance to Registered Providers selling new build shared ownership homes, and we will update our note as necessary as soon as we hear anything further from them.

For more information, please contact either Dominic Bauers or James Gostling in our Real Estate & Projects Team.

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