Following the announcement that the housing market was open for business again, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has issued advice to the public on the individual elements of the home buying and selling process and how this applies to different groups.
Those who are shielding or otherwise clinically vulnerable should continue to follow medical advice and stay at home avoiding all unnecessary contact. Parties involved in transactions should prioritise agreeing amicable arrangements to change moving dates for individuals in this group. It is not just the buyer or seller who should also be aware of the other’s situation. Where there is a chain of transactions it could well be another party falls within this group and that is going to have an impact on the chain. The status of all parties in a chain of transactions should be established as soon as possible as all parties in the chain will need to accommodate changes to protect a vulnerable party.
Moving home is not appropriate where a party poses a direct risk of transmitting coronavirus. They should not leave their home either to move home or undertake property viewings. Where there is a contractual obligation to move that move should be delayed until everyone in that household has come to the end of their self-isolation period. Should the move be essential due to an urgent health and safety risk then guidance should be sought from Public Health England.
Both buyers and sellers welcomed the Government’s encouragement for home moves to proceed thereby unlocking a large number of suspended transactions and delayed completions. But whilst people are now free to move home the process of finding and moving into their new home is going to be different from before with new practices and procedures to be put in place by all professionals involved in the buying process.
The MHCLG has provided guidance on all stages of the moving process from the initial property search to a buyer moving in.
Estate agents are being encouraged to continue with virtual viewings where they can. The new trend for this has reaped some rewards already and is proving useful for initial viewings. Physical viewings are to be by appointment only and no “open house” viewings are permitted. Agents have been told to familiarise themselves and their buyers and sellers of the procedures that they must comply with to ensure viewings can take place safely thereby minimising the risk to health. Under no circumstances may a viewing take place where a property is occupied by someone self-shielding or self-isolating.
The MHCLG has provided advice to all those professionals involved in the industry including developers, estate agents and removal companies. Their professional bodies will be issuing their own guidelines. Advice is also given to those who have to inspect the property such as surveyors, EPC assessors and new build warranty inspectors.
Much of the advice is common sense. But it is essential that guidelines be provided to manage risk.
We are promoting flexibility in the conveyancing process to take into account the practical and logistical issues presented by coronavirus. We are insistent on contracts containing explicit provisions permitting a change in a completion date due to the occurrence of a coronavirus related risk, commonly now known as a “coronavirus event”, as well as permitting additional precautionary measures that may be necessary in anticipation of completion. Such measures may also include making provision in a contract where completion monies are delayed due to the problems in the banking system as a result of staff being absent due to coronavirus. This was the subject of a recent blog.
The Government has warned of the risk of a second peak of coronavirus cases occurring in the Autumn. Therefore even where completion is planned for some months away a contract should contain provisions to cover the situation where completion cannot happen due to a coronavirus coronavirus event.
Moving home is a stressful enough pre-coronavirus. It is even more so in these unsettling times especially for those clients who are unwell or clinically vulnerable or self-shielding. Careful assessment of the risks that may be encountered in the conveyancing process and insisting on contractual provisions to minimise disruption caused by a coronavirus event will go some way to ease the process.
Please note that this blog is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content of this blog.
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