The Government issued further guidance on moving house late yesterday. The new guidance can be summed up as follows:
- If you have exchanged contracts and the property you are moving to is “vacant” you can continue with your move but need to follow the related guidance on home removals. There is no definition of vacant but we assume this means a property where the seller has previously moved out rather than one where the seller will be vacating the property on the day of completion itself.
- A statement from the British Association of Removers advises their members to cancel or postpone any move that has not yet started although this conflicts with the Government advice issue yesterday. So this needs to be considered where parties have exchanged contracts but have not booked their removals. It also needs to be considered by those who have already booked removals. So even if a property is vacant you may have logistical difficulties in moving into it unless the removal is actually underway i.e. the removers have started packing.
- If you have exchanged contracts and the property you are moving to is occupied then the parties to the transaction should do all they can to “amicably” agree an alternative completion date for a time when it is likely that the current stay-at-home measures will no longer be in place. Unfortunately there is no guidance as to when that might be.
- If moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and the parties cannot agree to delay completion you can move but must follow the Government advice on staying away from others. Once again no guidance is provided as to what circumstances are reasonably considered to render it impossible for completion to be delayed.
- If someone in the transaction you are involved with has symptoms of Covid-19 or is self-isolating or is in a group shielding from the virus then they should not move for the time being if “at all possible”;
- Finance UK issued a press release yesterday stating that mortgage providers will give customers who have exchanged contracts the option to extend their mortgage offer for up to three months to enable them to move at a later date. Note that this does not extend to those purchasers who have not yet exchanged contracts.
As conveyancers we have been told to advise clients who are ready to exchange not to exchange contracts on an occupied property unless the contract makes explicit provisions for the risks presented by the virus. We assume that this means some provision by which completion can be delayed if the stay-at-home advice measures are still in force or if someone in the property is self-isolating or shielding from the virus but there should be some kind of long-stop provision not least because of the risk of mortgage offers expiring if completion is postponed indefinitely. A full copy of the guidance including the related advice to the public and removal companies can be found here.
In light of the above our advice remains that if you haven’t already exchanged contracts then you should consider delaying exchange unless you are either buying a vacant property and/or are confident that you will be able to move into it or are just willing to accept a large degree of uncertainty as to when you might actually be able to complete your sale or purchase and move house.
We shall continue to update you about this issue as when we receive more guidance from the Government and the professional bodies representing those involved in this sector.
For an update on all the legal implications relating to Coronavirus please see here.
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