Home buyers and sellers do not have to pull out of transactions while the country is in Covid-19 lockdown, the government has said in guidance that is likely to provide some assurance to conveyancers. However, solicitors have been told to warn their clients that completing transactions will be more difficult now.
In guidance published last night, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government urged parties involved in home moving to be willing to alter their usual processes.
If the property is vacant, parties can continue the transaction. If the property is occupied, parties are encouraged to ‘amicably agree’ alternative dates to move. Critical home moves are exempt from emergency police enforcement powers if a new date cannot be agreed.
UK Finance has confirmed that mortgage lenders will extend offers by up to three months for customers who have exchanged.
The ministry says putting a property on the market now will be more challenging. Visitors should not be allowed into homes. Sellers are encouraged to use the lockdown to gather information that will need to be provided to potential buyers.
Conveyancers are told to continue to support the sales process as far as possible ‘and should make sure their clients are aware of the difficulties of completing transactions in this period’. They should ‘make every effort’ to support clients due to complete on occupied properties to change the moving date. They should advise clients who are ready to move not to exchange contracts on an occupied property ‘unless they have made explicit provision for the risks presented by the virus’. Priority should be given to support clients with Covid-19 symptoms or self-isolating.
The Law Society said the advice provided much needed clarity. Simon Davis, president, said: ‘Those who have not exchanged contracts would be well advised to wait and those who have exchanged contracts are encouraged to take a practical view and extend the contractual completion date if this can be agreed - and if the risks are clearly understood by both buyers and sellers.
‘Our members will now be talking to their clients to try to find workable alternatives to completion - in situations where there may be practical barriers whilst social distancing requirements are in place. They will be aiming to find pragmatic solutions in situations where contracts have been exchanged but the purchase is not yet completed.
Davis said further issues remain that need to be considered ‘and we will continue to liaise with government and update our own advice to members accordingly’.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.