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Will my purchase or sale go ahead during the Coronavirus outbreak?

  1. 25 March 2020
  2. By Daisy Stephens

With the government and the NHS asking us to stay at home, many people are asking if it is still possible to move. Property expert Kate Faulkner is here to tell you what your options are.

The short answer is, unless you're moving to a vacant property, it's unlikely.

The latest government guidance is:

A Government spokesperson said: "Home buyers and renters should, as far as possible, delay moving to a new house while emergency measures are in place to fight coronavirus. 

“If moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and the parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay, people must follow advice on social distancing to minimise the spread of the virus. 

“Anyone with symptoms, who is self-isolating or shielding from the virus should follow medical advice and not move house for the time being.”

Where moves do need to go ahead (where the move is critical, you're moving to a vacant property, or where you're contractually obliged and it has proved impossible to agree an alternative date), all those involved should take care to follow Government guidance on social distancing and hygiene. You can see the Public Health England guidance for more information.

Below we have explained the different scenarios and what will happen to your move during this difficult time.

You have exchanged and are getting ready for completion

In this case, even though both buyer and seller are contractually obliged to complete, parties should work to agree an alternative date. Your solicitors will negotiate to work out the best time and most appropriate course of action for everyone.

If you're moving to an occupied property and your move is not classed as critical, your move should only go ahead if it is impossible to agree an alternative date. If you do have to move then post, or in some cases, digital signatures, can apply, although this can be a bit of a grey area. You are likely to need witness signatures, so it is worth thinking about who could safely do that for you and take advice from your conveyancer.

It is even more important to agree an alternative date if you're vulnerable (for example, you're elderly or have underlying health conditions) or you're self-isolating. If you have symptoms it should be possible to move your completion date - remember that people get ill during ordinary moves as well, so your conveyancer should be able to negotiate with other buyers and sellers to find an alternative date.

If your move still needs to go ahead, the main task at this time will be to organise your removals if you haven’t already. Many companies have shut down, but some are still operating. Check what extra health and safety measures the removal company are carrying out during this time and enquire about removal insurance.

Remember that if you move you'll need to adhere to the government's social distancing measures. It will also be helpful to agree what cleaning you do on your property and the new one you move into, especially focusing on common 'touch points' such as handles and door knobs. 

You have made an offer and it’s been accepted

Although you may still be keen to go ahead, until lockdown is over, you won’t be able to move, but there's no reason to pull out of the sale. Your move will be able to go ahead as planned after the lockdown has been lifted, and in the meantime, there are things you can do.

If you are the seller:

You will still need a physical valuation carried out on your property by a qualified RICS surveyor post-lockdown. Once the lockdown is over it will be worth contacting them and going through the safety questions to check you are well, and then follow the government guidance to keep you – and themselves – safe during the visit. This is likely to include asking you either to go out or to be in a separate room while they carry out their survey.

If you are the buyer:

You are likely to want a survey of the property you've made an offer on. This will give you an independent report on the property’s condition and you can also request a valuation – which is a wise move at this time. Whilst you are unlikely to be able to book this in until the lockdown is over, that doesn’t stop you from securing a quote and preparing so that you can move forward with the survey as soon as the restrictions are lifted.

If you want measurements to help you choose new furniture or flooring, then ask the agent if they can send them to you, or if the seller can provide them, to save a viewing.

You have just put your home up for sale

If your property has recently been marketed by an agent, unfortunately no viewings will be allowed until the lockdown is over as agents' offices have been shut down, although many are now home based.

However, what you can do is review the feedback you have had so far and have a good look around your home. Work out what you could do to help add value and ensure you can sell quickly, and for a good price, once the lockdown is over.

You have started looking for a new home

For buyers, this is an uncertain time, but there is no harm in looking for a property as most agents now do video viewings as well as posting plenty of pictures online.

However, one of the most important things to do before you start looking at property is make sure you understand the market you will be buying in – in our experience, this is very specific to a road/postcode.

There are three things you can do to understand the local market:
  1. Check how many properties are for sale in your price bracket
  2. Check how many properties in your price bracket have sold
  3. Consider whether you can compromise on location for more space
As a guide, for every 10 properties for sale:
  • If four or more properties have sold, the market is ‘hot’
  • If three or fewer properties have sold then the market is 'cold' and you might be able to bag a bargain
In addition you can call local agents (many will be working from home) to explain what you are looking for, and ask them if prices have been falling or rising in the run-up to the lockdown.

When the lockdown is over, if you are worried about buying and then getting ill, there are ways you can mitigate this risk. You could potentially secure a three month ‘coronavirus’ mortgage holiday, and you can get insurnace in case you lose your job. Talk to your mortgage broker and they will advise how to protect yourself. Lenders cannot repossess homes for three months – estimated up until mid- June.

Get move ready!

If you want to move but can’t, it doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to prepare to buy and/or sell a home in just a few weeks’ time. You can still prepare your own property for sale, research removals, surveyors and conveyancing firms, and read up on the area you want to move to. You can also research the costs of moving to check you'll be ready to go once the pandemic is over.

Read our article on 10 things to do to get yourself 'move ready'.

If you have any questions, comment below or tweet us and we'll be happy to help.
  Please note: This information regarding the moving industry and Covid-19 was accurate at the time of publication (25.03.20 at 16:00 hrs). Government recommended action is changing constantly, and we will endeavour to keep these articles up to date, but please continue to check the government site for updates on home moving during lockdown.

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