Residential Property Update: The relaxing of lockdown restrictions
This article should be read in conjunction with the article dated 27th March 2020.
This advice is correct as at 15th May 2020.
In a move to restart the housing market, the Government guidance in relation to residential property transactions was updated on Wednesday 13th May. The restrictions on estate agents and removal companies in England have been lifted, enabling the sale and purchase of properties to go ahead again. The full guidance can be read here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/government-advice-on-home-moving-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak#history
Our conveyancing team here at Butcher & Barlow have continued to work remotely throughout lockdown, supporting the sales process as far as possible and doing what we could to support clients who had already exchanged and fixed a completion date. We will be continuing to work remotely for the time being, but are putting in place safety measures that will allow face to face client meetings if those meetings cannot be conducted remotely.
However, there remain legal considerations for client who enter in to property transactions, and the risks highlighted in our note on 27th March are still extremely valid. The guidance issued on Wednesday is of a more practical nature and our head of Residential Property Lynsey Stuchfield summarises the main points of interest taken from the latest guidance.
Vulnerable people or those shielding
In the case of vulnerable people or those shielding the need to move home must be balanced against the increased risks presented by coronavirus. You should seek medical advice before deciding whether to commit to a house move and you should make clear your status to all of the professionals involved in your house move. Please therefore let us know if you are vulnerable or are shielding.
People self-isolating or having tested positive for coronavirus
Moving home is not appropriate whilst you pose a direct risk of transmitting coronavirus. Therefore if you have coronavirus or are self-isolating (whether alone or with family members) you should not leave your home to move house or to view properties. Where contracts have already been exchanged on a house move the move should be delayed until you and all members of your family have come to the end of your self-isolation period. Where a move is essential such as due to an urgent health and safety risk you need to contact Public Health England/your local Public Health Teams for advice. Please let us know if you have symptoms of coronavirus or are self-isolating.
Moving at the present time
People who are not self-isolating and who do not have coronavirus are free to move home but those involved in the process will need to adopt practices and procedures to ensure that the risk of spread of coronavirus is reduced as far as possible. The process of finding and moving home is now different to what it was. It is vital that everyone stays alert and safe.
Your estate agent will provide you with detailed advice on how viewings can be conducted safely. However, in brief:
- Initial viewings should be done virtually.
- All physical viewings should be limited to members of the same household and open house viewings should not take place. Practice social distancing in line with public health advice.
- If any member of either the household being viewed, or the household undertaking a viewing, is showing symptoms of coronavirus or is self-isolating, then a physical viewing should be delayed.
- If viewing physically, you should avoid touching surfaces, wash your hands regularly, and bring your own hand sanitiser.
- The number of people on a viewing should be minimised to those from your household that absolutely have to be there. If you need to be accompanied by small children, you should try to keep them from touching surfaces and ensure they wash their hands regularly.
- You should open all internal doors and ensure surfaces, such as door handles, are cleanedafter each viewing with standard household cleaning products.
- Allow access to handwashing facilities and ideally separate towels/paper towels.
- Ideally, vacate the property and allow the estate agent to conduct the viewing.
Preparing to buy, sell or move home
You can put your home on the market and start to look for properties you want to move into. Agents are now able to visit the property to take photos and thereafter market your home. If any member of the household being viewed is showing symptoms or is self-isolating then estate agents should not physically visit the property.
To help prevent the spread of infection, the majority of property searching should be done online.
As usual, you can also start to bring together the documentation necessary to sell your property and our residential property team here at Butcher & Barlow can talk you through what is required.
If you wish to buy a new build property you should make contact with the developer in the usual way. You should be able to view the show home or visit the particular plot you are interested in purchasing, although there will be appointment systems in place.
Making offers or reservations
You are free to make or accept an offer or reserve a property as normal.
However, as explained in our previous guidance, there is a greater risk that parties may need to delay their move because someone is showing symptoms of coronavirus or self-isolating. We will advise you on the best way to protect yourself from whilst also making the transactions as flexible as possible to accommodate this risk.
Prospective purchasers may wish to visit a property again once they have agreed a sale, for example to measure up. If possible, this should be avoided but where this has been agreed to, the above advice on prioritising virtual visits, hygiene measures, maintaining social distancing at all times and mitigating contact where possible should be followed.
Purchasers may also want to send in tradespeople to carry out inspections. If these visits can be delayed until after completion, we would recommend it. However, if this is not possible, social distancing and hygiene guidelines need to be followed.
Property searches and surveys
We will carry out searches on your property online in order to progress your transaction and will discuss likely timescales with you.
Your surveyor can undertake surveys of the property you wish to purchase. However, Surveyors should not enter a property where a member of the household is showing symptoms of coronavirus or self-isolating.
If your home is being surveyed, you should ensure the surveyor has access to all the parts of the property they need to inspect, and make efforts to minimise contact with the surveyor, for example by staying in another room whilst they are inspecting your home.
Agreeing to move
Once you have agreed to move home by exchanging contracts or signing a tenancy agreement, you have entered into a legal agreement to move. Parties are encouraged to be as flexible as possible over this period and be prepared to delay moves if needed, for example if someone becomes ill with coronavirus during the moving process or has to self-isolate. You should not expect to move into any home where people are ill or self-isolating. Please see our guidance from 27th March in this regard.
Moving your belongings
Removal firms are able to operate, although they may need to adjust usual procedures in order to ensure moves happen as safely as possible. You should contact your removal firms as early as possible in advance of your move but note that until exchange of contracts takes place, no completion date is legally binding and this should be considered before entering into a contract wit the removal company.
We recommend that you and your household try and do as much of the packing yourself as possible, cleaning your belongings with standard domestic cleaning products before they are handled by others, including removal firms.
Whilst the removers are in your home, you should ensure any internal doors are open and seek to minimise your contact with the crew, maintaining a distance of at least 2 metres where possible.
All parties should wash their hands and avoid touching surfaces where possible to reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus.
You should not provide refreshments but you should ensure they have access to hand washing facilities, using separate towels or paper towels if possible, which should be washed or disposed of safely afterwards.
As the situation and guidance in this area is constantly evolving, please contact our Residential Property team for specific advice and guidance around your own personal situation.
Although is accordance with Government guidelines, our offices remain closed, the team remain available for advice and guidance on any existing or new matter and please do not hesitate to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org or email your legal adviser directly.
To view Butcher & Barlow’s own working practices, please visit www.butcher-barlow.co.uk/news.
Further guidance, provided by the Law Society, can be found here: consumer-coronavirus-guidance-on-safe-home-moving-may-2020