Coronavirus – To move or not to move?

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By Chris Pease, Joint Senior Partner and Head of Residential Property

The government’s announcement on Monday 23 March, placing the country in a lock-down, raised a lot of questions and concerns over conveyancing transactions. The question on my lips was, well, what happens now? Can you leave the house to move? Are removal firms still operating, and if so, how can they do so and still observe the social distancing requirements? The government guidance issued on Thursday evening, effectively saying to delay completion where possible, confirmed a lot of practical positions solicitors had already adopted.

Work is continuing so far as we able, but some target dates for exchange and / or completion may need to be reassessed.

So what does that mean for you?

I have set out below some example situations, and the implications of the government advice:

I’ve exchanged contracts and am supposed to be completing next week / next month. Can we still move?

Government advice is that if you are currently living in the property you are selling, or there is someone living in the property you are looking to buy (or both) then you should all try to agree to delay completion. Unfortunately, the exact time for when completion is likely to take place is difficult to say with any certainty at this stage, as it would ideally be once the restrictions have been lifted. You could agree a date for, say, 3 months time and agree to bring this forward once we know more.

If delaying completion is not possible, then completion can still go ahead. Practically, you will need to ensure that removal companies are still available, and speak to the agents to make arrangements to, safely, collect keys.

So we’ve agreed to delay completion – what do we do now?

Each parties solicitors will be in touch with each other, to confirm the variation to the completion date. If mortgage monies had been requested, this request will be cancelled, and a new request will be made for the new completion date.

If your mortgage offer would expire during this delay, lenders will be working with you to arrange and extension. This can be for up to 3 months, and ensure that the offer you have is still current for the new completion date you have agreed.

We’re close to an exchange of contracts, but haven’t done so yet. What should I do?  

Our advice would be to follow government guidance, and not to exchange or complete on your sale or purchase until such time as the restrictions have been lifted. Even exchanging with a long completion date is risky, and you could be putting yourself in an unnecessary stressful situation. We would suggest progressing the matter as far as possible, so that once the restrictions are lifted we can proceed to exchange quickly, but to hold off on exchange itself for now.

What if the property is empty?

Government guidance to us has said that the sale of unoccupied properties should be supported so far as possible. The practical implications of moving into the property will need to be considered, such as the availability of removal companies. In this situation, a simultaneous exchange and completion may be a better option, so that if there are any last minute developments or delays there would be no financial penalties under the contract, for either party. The downside is that you could not guarantee you will be completing until the actual day, but this inconvenience should be outweighed by being able to avoid contractual liability for any delay.

I’ve just agreed a sale/purchase. Can I still go ahead?

Yes, of course. Although the offices may be closed, estate agents and solicitors alike are generally working remotely, so we’re still to issue sales memorandum, prepare contracts and begin the title investigation.

There may be a delay to the transaction generally, and this will need to be taken into account. Surveyors and mortgage valuers, for example, may be unable to access properties, and some searches which require attendance at local authorities will be put on hold until the council offices reopen.   Any additional viewings will also need to be rescheduled for when it is safe to do so.

Please rest assured that Longmores are still working, albeit from home, to assist you where we can, and if you want to discuss your conveyancing transaction or anything we can do to assist you at this time please get in touch.

Please note the contents of this blog are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.