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We are still living in highly unusual, unprecedented times, with the current government lockdown expected to last for some time yet and everyone in the country trying to get used to a new world of remote working, self-isolating and social distancing.
The shocking news of the Prime Minister Boris Johnson beingtaken into intensive care has perhaps brought it home more than ever just how serious the situation currently is.
The advice from the government to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives, while of course absolutely the right advice at this juncture, has had an inevitable impact on the property industry and the moving process.
Early in the lockdown, it wasn’t entirely clear if house moves were considered as essential
and it took a little while before the official government guidance was disseminated. On Tuesday March 24, the day after the lockdown measures were announced, the government told agents to shut their offices immediately
and work from home instead, while a few days later – on Friday March 27 – the government finally issued definitive guidance
on home buying and selling during the coronavirus pandemic.
Below, we explore the official government line in these troubling times and also explore the official lines from the home moving industry bodies.
What does the government say?
In its extensive guidance, which gave advice to both the public on viewings, accepting offers and exchanging contracts, and also to various parts of industry, it says there is no need for people to pull out of transactions, but insists everyone needs to ensure they are following guidance to stay at home and away from others at all times. This includes the specific measures for those who are presenting symptoms, self-isolating or shielding. “Prioritising the health of individuals and the public must be the priority,” the guidance stated.
“Where the property being moved into is vacant, then you can continue with this transaction although you should follow the guidance in this document on home removals. Where the property is currently occupied, we encourage all parties to do all they can to amicably agree alternative dates to move, for a time when it is likely that stay-at-home measures against coronavirus will no longer be in place.”
The guidance also said: “In the new emergency enforcement powers that the police have been given to respond to coronavirus, there is an exemption for critical home moves, in the event that a new date is unable to be agreed.”
In its advice to removal firms, the government said that - while there will be people who have already committed to moving home - where possible they are being encouraged to delay their move. However, a small number of moves may need to go ahead. “We would urge everyone to take all sensible precautions to ensure the move can happen safely,” the advice said.
This should be done in the following way, according to the official government advice:
- Removers should honour their existing commitments where it is clear that the move can be done safely for the client and your own staff and it is clear that the moving date cannot be moved.
- Removers should follow the latest government guidance which currently (26 March 2020) states that work carried out in people’s homes can continue, provided the tradesperson is well and has no symptoms or coronavirus (Covid-19).
- It is important to ensure government guidelines are followed, including maintaining a two metre distance from others, and washing their hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds (or using hand sanitiser gel if soap and water is not available).
- No work should be carried out by a person who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild.
You can see the full government advice on home moving during the coronavirus outbreak here
What do the industry trade bodies say?
The Law Society
The independent professional body for solicitors, and seen as the main voice for the profession, has a coronavirus advice and updates section of its website, which it is updating regularly.
In response to the government guidance on buying and selling homes during the pandemic, the Society issued the following statement:
“We welcome the government’s advice which provides much needed clarity around some of the issues home buyers and sellers are facing,” Simon Davis, president of the Law Society, 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.”
He added: “They will be aiming to find pragmatic solutions in situations where contracts have been exchanged but the purchase is not yet completed. There remain further issues that require consideration, and we will continue to liaise with government and update our own advice to members accordingly.”
The Society’s detailed advice on Covid-19 and its impact on residential conveyancing transactions can be seen here.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
The world’s leading professional body for qualifications and standards in land, property, infrastructure and construction, RICS is generally seen as one of the most respected and effective trade bodies in the UK and has offered the following Covid-19 advice to the surveyors who play a key role in the moving process.
“Surveyors should not expect to carry out non-urgent surveys in homes where people are in residence, and no inspections should take place if any person in the property is showing symptoms, self-isolating or being shielded.”
“It may be possible to carry out some of your work online and also carry out urgent surveys on empty properties, or those where the occupants are out of the property or following guidance to stay at home and away from others.”
It said surveyors should follow the latest government guidance stating that work carried out in people’s homes can continue, provided the tradesperson is well and has no symptoms of Covid-19. No work should be carried out by a person who coronavirus symptoms, however mild, and government guidelines on social distancing and hand-washing must also be adhered to.
“To support our professionals who deliver residential property surveys, RICS is delaying the implementation of the new Home Survey Standard which is due to come into effect on June 1 2020. The effective date for the standard will be delayed by six months to December 1 2020.”
RICS has a very comprehensive page outlining its response to Covid-19, which can be viewed here
British Association of Removers (BAR)
This trade body for the removals sector has been going strong for well over a century and aims to set high professional standards and promote excellence for the moving and storage industries.
The Association’s advice to members in the current situation is as follows:
“The PM’s latest briefing on Monday March 23 with regards to the developing crisis arising from the global coronavirus pandemic was absolutely clear, and in a nutshell the day-to-day life of the UK is now formally suspended for a period of at least three weeks. The question then arises as to what should happen with any moves that are either underway or booked to take place, and the recommendation of the BAR to its Members has been equally as clear as that given by the PM, and that recommendation is as follows:
The Member should only complete any moves that are underway and immediately cancel or postpone any move that has not yet started.
It is evident that our collective and absolute priority now must be on ensuring the safety of the staff and customers of our Members, and of course their respective families, and so all parties must now make every immediate effort to remove the risk for mover and consumer alike at the very earliest opportunity.
There will, of course, be many more questions asked and answers needing to be given over the next few days, but it is imperative that we react now to that very explicit instruction from the PM and we strongly encourage everyone to comply with the instructions issued by the PM, and the subsequent recommendation made by the BAR, and to keep safe and well.”
The advice across the board seems crystal clear at present, and is line with the government advice on most aspects of our lives at present – unless a house move is absolutely critical, it should be delayed or postponed until such a time when the lockdown measures have been lifted or relaxed.
On our blog page, we have covered the impact of coronavirus in detail, asking how landlords and tenants are affected during the crisis
, what people can do if they lose their job and can’t afford their mortgage or rent
, and how various professions are protecting consumers during the pandemic