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The first steps to opening the property market have been made

Over the last 7 weeks the property market has been on hold. With the lockdown in place we were only allowed outside once a day for exercise and to travel where it was absolutely essential.  Moving house was only allowed where it was absolutely critical, the property was vacant and/or exchange of contracts had taken place and the chain could not agree to move the completion date.

This week we are seeing rapid changes in the lockdown restrictions and as of yesterday evening, the news broke that the position regarding essential travel in relation to property has been updated. This news has been long awaited by Property Lawyers and Estate Agents alike and this is one of the first steps towards opening up the property market.  In relation to property you may now travel for purpose of:

  • Visiting estate and/or letting agents, developer sales offices and/or show homes
  • Viewing a residential property to look for a property to buy or rent
  • Preparing a residential property to move in
  • Moving house
  • Visiting a residential property to undertake any activities required for the rental or sale of that property

This is excellent news for the industry however, we must ensure that appropriate measures are in place so that house moves are carried out safely and therefore the guidelines on social distancing must be followed. 

Estate Agents will no doubt be very cautious about carrying out viewings and Property Lawyers will advise heavily on the risks of moving house during the pandemic.  Advice is expected to be issued on how this can be carried out but is likely to include:

  • Potential buyers will not be able to touch surfaces and door handles
  • Internal doors will need to be left open and agents will need to carry wipes and disinfectant,
  • No more than two people will be able to attend viewings and children will need to wait outside
  • The time of the viewing may be limited to as little as 10-15 minutes
  • Those viewing properties must not be showing any symptoms of COVID-19

Before authorising your conveyancer to exchange contracts and fix a completion date you should ensure you consider the following:

  • You are committing to a contract and failure to comply with the terms of that contract will put you in a breach position which carries heavy financial penalties.
  • You may not be able to complete if you or any other person in the chain starts to show symptoms of COVID-19 as that person will need to self-isolate.  If these symptoms occur after exchange of contracts but before completion, this will have an impact of you fulfilling the terms of the contract as mentioned above i.e. providing vacant possession. 
  • A simultaneous exchange and completion is the recommended option, this means that you would exchange and complete on the same day but this comes with its own risks… you may not wish to book removals because without exchange there is no real commitment to the completion date and any party can pull out at any time whether this is because they have fallen ill or simply found another property to purchase.
  • A conditional exchange is an option but a conditional exchange is often referred to within the industry as ‘no exchange at all’.  It can provide for many loop holes which would give you no more certainty than not to exchange at all.

This morning the media have reported a surge in requests for house viewings via the popular property listing sites Rightmove and Zoopla, sold signs will start to appear and instructions will come through.  A typical transaction is 6-8 weeks and therefore any instructions/offers received now should start to complete in July when we know the effects of the lift of the lockdown restrictions and we will have a better picture of what this will look like at that stage and therefore our advice is going to be ever changing.

To summarise, whilst the news is very positive, these are baby steps and we must be cautious to ensure our clients receive the best advice to make decisions when considering moving house at the stage of exchange and completion, ensure the risk is kept to a minimum and any house moves can be carried out safely.

Full details of the Government’s new advice can be found here 

 

These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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