Conveyancers have cautiously welcomed plans unveiled by the government last night to restart the homebuying market. From today, anyone in England can move home as long as they follow amended guidance published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Home buyers and sellers were previously told to delay completion until lockdown ends.
Estate agents will be able to reopen their offices, viewings are permitted, show homes can open and removal companies can restart.
Conveyancers were previously told to continue to support the sales process as far as possible and make every effort to support clients due to complete on occupied properties to change the moving date. They have now been told they can open for business and take on new instructions. However, they should conduct as much of their business remotely as possible. Where client meetings must take place, measures should be in place to ensure appropriate social distancing and hygiene.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: ‘Our clear plan will enable people to move home safely covering each aspect of the sales and letting process from viewings to removals. Our step-by-step plan is based on the latest guidance to ensure the safety and protection of everyone involved. This critical industry can now safely move forward, and those waiting patiently to move can now do so.’
Peter Ambrose, managing director of London and Guildford conveyancers The Partnership, said his firm was ‘absolutely delighted’ to see the news this morning. However, he said: ‘Based on our experience in recent weeks, we remain extremely concerned about the ability of law firms to adapt to the working practices required and that this news will have little impact on our ability to complete transactions in the short to medium term.’
Residential conveyancer Rob Hailstone, CEO of Bold Legal Group, said new instructions should begin to trickle through. ‘However, as the government said earlier, this does not represent a return to normality. Progressing transactions will not be as straightforward as they were pre lockdown. In my opinion they could take even longer, which, from a cashflow situation for many firms, will not help. Firms should now be working with estate agents (and others) and requesting that sellers instruct them upon marketing, not upon acceptance of offer. An awful lot of time saving work can be carried out during that usually "legally dead" period.’
The Conveyancing Association, a trade body, says it is creating sector-specific guidance to help conveyancers identify what they need to think about when dealing with transactions, such as installing screens in their receptions or signing up to electronic identity verification systems.