Coronavirus has pressed the pause button on society. The way we live and go about our daily lives has changed dramatically since the Coronavirus lockdown began. The current political and social landscape is incredibly challenging, there are daily news updates and policies are changing rapidly. Boris Johnson, himself a survivor of the Coronavirus, reiterated the ‘Stay at home’ policy on his first day back at Number 10 and there is still no clear plan of how or when lockdown restrictions will be lifted.
As normal life has been put on hold, so have many important milestones and decisions. Before lockdown, the housing market was on the up, showing growth with over 76,000 mortgage approvals in February alone, then within a matter of days at the beginning of March everything changed. Tens of thousands of buyers and sellers were stranded, and the government effectively froze the housing market. Buyers and sellers have been in limbo for several weeks now, with many reporting they do not know where they now stand and if their sale or purchase will go through at all. In this unprecedented time of uncertainty, what are the options available to those wanting to either sell or buy a property during the coronavirus pandemic?
On March 26th, the Government issued guidelines that stated, ‘there is no need to pull out of transactions, but we all need to ensure we are following guidance to stay at home and away from others at all times, including 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’.
Robert Jenrick, Housing Minister, stated that ‘buyers and renters should, as far as possible, delay moving to a new house while emergency measures are in place’. This is all well and good if both sides show pragmatism and allow flexibility on completion dates, but what if waiting is not an option, what if you must move and cannot stop the process for contractual reasons? What if your circumstances suddenly change and you must sell your property during lockdown?
This is a question that has many grey areas, but the Government have been sensible and acknowledged that some moves can go ahead ‘where reasonably necessary during this emergency period’ and are permitted as ‘critical home moves’. They go on to state, ‘if moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and the parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay, people must follow advice on staying away from others to minimise the spread of the virus’.
The Government have also rightly addressed empty or new-build properties and have allowed these sales to carry on as normal, ‘‘where the property being moved into is vacant, then you can continue’. A ‘critical move’ must follow decontamination guidelines produced by Public Health England to protect against the spread of Coronavirus. A helpful checklist can be found on the Government Website.
This is positive news for those that cannot agree on a postponed date and therefore the transaction can continue following government guidelines on social distancing. The British Association of Removers (BAR) have recommended, following Government instruction, that all moves are cancelled and to only fulfil moves in ‘exceptional circumstances’ once a full risk assessment has been carried out and criteria met.
Again, the government have been sensible and realistic not to cease all home moves during lockdown, so if people’s circumstances change suddenly during the lockdown period and there is an essential need to sell or buy a property, the situation can be classed as a ‘critical move’.
If a move is urgent and essential, but contracts have not been exchanged or the property is not yet on the open market, this could also qualify as a ‘critical move’ and may be able to go ahead. Any moves that do go ahead must adhere to Public Health England and all social distancing policies issued by the Government.
These restrictions have been put in place to ensure public safety and prevent further spread of the virus across the country. Advice from the Ministry of Housing Communities & Local Government states: ‘In the new emergency powers that the police have been given to respond to coronavirus, there is an exemption for critical house moves, in the event a new date is unable to be agreed’. Therefore, people will not be fined or penalised should the need arise to sell your home under the ‘critical move’ criteria.
Options for ordinary moves are currently limited for several reasons. Estate agents can agree to sell your home but cannot market it fully due to restrictions on movement and inability to enter a property for valuations or viewings. Many mortgage lenders have halted new mortgage applications due to surveyors not being able to enter properties to value. Conveyancers are working from home to keep as many existing chains together as possible, but due to the ever-changing parameters, people need to question if they can ride the storm out and sell at the end of the lockdown, or if they must sell now, who can they turn to?
Spring, as a home-buying service, has adjusted many of our working practices to allow us to continue purchasing properties during lockdown, while also ensuring safety for our customers and employees. For any assistance navigating the property market during this time, please get in touch to see how we can help you understand the current restrictions and your options to sell your home.
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