24th March 2020 was arguably the worst day in history to move house. The country had just gone into the first lockdown, removers did not know whether they could work, the banking system was unreliable and lawyers started looking up definitions of Force Majeure. All pretty traumatic for those moving house.
The question buyers were asking then is whether they could move house in accordance with exchanged contracts and others were considering whether they should commit themselves to an exchange.
It appears that the forthcoming lockdown will not lockdown the housing market as it did before.
A statement from Robert Jenrick, the minister for Housing Communities and Local Government has confirmed that renters and homeowners will be able to move house.
Removal firms will continue to operate and will honour all current contracts. This statement is backed up by the British Association of Removers.
Estate agents can still operate.
Valuers and surveyors can continue inspect buildings.
Tradespeople can still enter tenant’s homes for landlords to carry out their repair and maintenance obligations.
Construction sites can continue to operate so the supply of new housing will not be interrupted.
All of this is subject to firms and individuals observing the Covid-related safety guidance set down by their professional bodies and carrying out social distancing.
However there is no guidance as to whether prospective buyers or renters inspecting a property constitutes an essential journey so the development of virtual viewings by estate agents will certainly prove valuable over the next few months.
This is positive news for a housing market that has seen a surge in activity since it was unlocked in May. The numbers of movers who would be affected by a new market lockdown is very considerably more than those affected back in March.
But it is likely that there will be some decrease in the number of new agreed sales just because of the general overall uncertainty that lockdown will create. The Covid clauses that became popular in the Spring covering delays due to Covid disruption are likely to be re-introduced. It has been suggested that HMRC extend the current Stamp duty Land Tax (SDLT) holiday beyond 31st March 2021 to compensate for enforced delayed completion given that SDLT liability crystallises on completion.
Further good news affecting current homeowners is that the mortgage holiday scheme for those struggling to pay their mortgages is likely to be extended. It was due to come to an end this coming weekend. Those yet to take a mortgage holiday can still apply for one up to six months in duration. Those already on payment holidays should be able to extend up to the six month limit.
All of the above is yet to be confirmed in detail until the Government approves the new measures following their debate on Wednesday, 4 November 2020. We will continue to monitor the situation and update accordingly.
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