As we enter into the tenth week of lockdown, where the novelty of working from home has begun to lose its shine and the intention to get back in shape is in constant battle with the inexplicable desire to eat just one more biscuit, a recent government announcement amending the guidelines concerning conveyancing matters may help bring some relief to those hoping to move.
So, what are the new guidelines?
Under the new guidelines, the property market has been reopened and it is no longer the advice that all sales and purchases be put on hold. Whilst social distancing measures remain in place, these have been updated to allow for sales and purchases to proceed.
Moving home is now permitted, properties can be marketed, and you can make an offer on a property.
Sales and purchases which had exchanged prior to the introduction of the lockdown measures and which were encouraged to delay completion if possible, are now permitted to proceed to completion.
Businesses vital to the conveyancing process have been advised that they may resume providing services and in some limited circumstances, reopen offices.
What has changed?
As well as sales and purchases now being able to proceed, conveyancers have been given the green light to take on new matters. However, we are still being encouraged to work remotely and promote a flexible approach in all matters.
Surveyors are now able to carry out surveys, if they can do so safely. Sellers and all occupiers are encouraged to vacate the property whilst the survey is being carried out or failing that, must maintain an appropriate distance at all times. Surveyors are encouraged to wear suitable safety equipment and establish and enact safety policies.
Estate agent offices can now reopen and resume arranging viewings, all provided that fairly detailed guidance is complied with. Virtual viewings are currently preferential if possible (i.e. for an initial viewing), but physical viewings can now be arranged if sensible measures are taken. The same applies for when keys need to be handed over upon completion, or other times when social distancing would be appropriate.
Contractors and labourers can carry out safety checks and inspections, if it is safe to do so, and they comply with social distancing requirements.
Removal companies are now also free to commence work again. However, it is advised you pack as much as you can yourself and that all boxes and items being removed are cleaned. However rude it feels, you should not offer any refreshments and you should instead attempt to ensure that cleaning facilities are available instead.
What has not changed?
We are still in lockdown and the new guidelines are reliant on us all ensuring that all health and social distancing regulations are complied with.
Virtual viewings are still encouraged above physical viewings, which should only be carried out if there is no alternative. Open house viewings are still not permitted.
The majority of a conveyancing matter should be dealt with virtually and conveyancers are encouraged to adapt to the current circumstances to facilitate with this.
Searches may still take longer to return and in some cases when the local authority offices are closed, it may not be possible to obtain some search results. If this occurs, then alternative solutions must be considered.
Correspondence from lenders may also be delayed and extra time and care must be given in any matter which is reliant on mortgage funds in order to complete.
Vulnerable persons, extremely vulnerable persons (i.e. those who have received correspondence advising them of their status) or those who are shielding, should carefully consider their situation before moving and if you have to move, seek medical advice before doing so.
Moving home or allowing others into your home is not appropriate when you or anyone in your house is self-isolating or has tested positive for Covid-19. If you are contractually bound to complete, you are encouraged to delay moving until all members end the self-isolation period. All parties involved are encouraged to be amiable and flexible to allow for people to move safely.
What happens now?
Although these new guidelines seek to enable people to move home in a safe manner, there is no denying that there are still many challenges, which will require creative solutions.
With the property market having reopened, exchange and completion dates will need to be agreed upon. Given the current uncertainty, it may be preferential to exchange and complete simultaneously on the same day. There are advantages and disadvantages for proceeding on this basis and this will not be feasible in all matters. If this is the case for you and there will need to be a gap between exchange and completion, then serious consideration should be given as to how best the risk may be mitigated. This could include additional provisions being inserted into the contract, which would aim to anticipate and resolve any issue that may arise.
Whilst there may still be difficult times ahead, we are continuing to adapt to these circumstances and will continue to be here to support you in your conveyancing matter.
For further information please contact Luke Corby-Owen, Solicitor in our Residential Conveyancing team. Luke is contactable by phone on 020 8971 1607 or by email at [email protected]