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What are My Rights on Moving Home During the Pandemic?

4 May 2020

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Updated 13th May 2020 

During these unprecedented times there is a lot of uncertainty amongst home buyers and sellers. True Solicitors residential conveyancing team answer our most commonly asked questions on what your legal rights are whilst moving home during the current covid-19 pandemic.

1. Can I still legally move home?

Full advice on moving home during the Covid-19 outbreak can be read on the gov.uk website. In brief the government have advised that:

• Buyers and sellers do not need to pull out of transactions, but must ensure that guidelines around social distancing are followed, including the specific measures for those who are presenting symptoms, self-isolating or shielding.
• If you are moving into a property that is currently vacant you can continue with this transaction although you should follow the government guidance on home removals.
• If you are moving into a property that has been occupied up until the moving date all parties are encouraged to amicably agree alternative dates to move, for a time when it is likely that stay-at-home measures against coronavirus (COVID-19) will no longer be in place.
• Exemptions to the above include situations that are deemed to be ‘critical home moves’. This is when moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and the parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay. Moves are still allowed to proceed as planned however people must follow advice on staying away from others to minimise the spread of the virus.
• Those who are presenting symptoms, self-isolating or shielding should not move during the pandemic. All parties involved in the chain should work together to agree on a new, suitable date for moving.

2. Will my solicitor still help me with my move?

If you have already instructed a solicitor to help you with buying or selling your property, they will continue to assist you throughout the process. Many law firms are now working remotely and adapted their processes to allow for the sending and receiving of electronic paperwork.

It is however important to be aware that the legal process of buying and selling is likely to take longer, due to the impact of delays in surveys etc.

At True Solicitors we will help our clients by:

• Continuing to support the sales of unoccupied properties as far as possible.
• Make every effort to support our clients who are due to complete on occupied properties in the stay-at-home period to change this date.
• We will advise our clients who are ready to move not to exchange contracts on an occupied property unless they have made explicit provision for the risks presented by the virus.
• We will prioritise supporting anyone with symptoms, self-isolating or shielding from the virus and those they are in chain with, and urge them to do all they can to help a new date to be agreed in these circumstances.

3. Can I still accept an offer?

If your home is currently on the market and someone puts an offer in to buy it, you can still accept their offer. It is however, important to be aware that the selling process will take longer than usual at this time.

4. Can I still conduct viewings?

You are permitted to continue to advertise your property as being for sale during the lockdown. As of 13th May you are allowed to conduct viewings at your home as long as social distancing guidelines are followed. Some estate agents are conducting virtual viewings of properties, so it is advisable to contact your agent to see if this is an option for you.

5. Can I still exchange a contract?

It is still possible to exchange contracts at this time, nevertheless the government advises that:

• If the property that you are purchasing is currently occupied, all parties involved in the chain should agree to delay the exchange of contracts until after the lockdown is lifted; or include explicit contractual provisions to take account of the risks presented by the virus.
• If the property is vacant you can exchange as normal although we are recommending that exchange takes place on the day of completion in case the lockdown restrictions change.

6. Can I still hire a removal company?

If your house move cannot be rearranged for a later date it is still possible to hire a removal company, should they still be operating during the stay-at-home period. The government have advised that:

• 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).
• They should practice maintaining a 2 metre distance from others, along with 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 (COVID-19) symptoms, however mild.

7. Can I still put my home on the market?

You can still instruct an estate agent to start marketing your home at this time, and as of 13th May you are allowed to conduct viewings and valuations of your property so long as social distancing guidelines and safety measures are followed.

Some estate agents may be able to handle some aspects remotely, such as through valuing your home via video call and allowing you to conduct ‘virtual’ viewings. However, as buying a property is such a high value purchase, the vast majority of buyers will not put an offer in without having set foot in the property. You may find that prospective buyers are reluctant to visit your home at this current time.

It is advisable to use the lockdown period as a time to get your house in the best condition for selling, by perhaps freshening up rooms with a lick of paint, and tidying up the garden. It is also a good idea to start gathering all of the necessary paperwork you will need to provide to the new buyer, such as energy and building certificates.

8. Will my mortgage agreement still stand?

If you have exchanged contracts and have a mortgage offer from your lender in place, but your completion date has been delayed due to the pandemic, mortgage lenders are now working to allow customers to extend their mortgage offer for up to 3 months, to allow them to move at a later date.

If your financial circumstances change during this 3 month period, or the terms of the property purchase change significantly, meaning that continuing with the mortgage would cause home buyers to face financial hardship, lenders will work with their customers to help them manage their finances as a matter of urgency.

9. Can I still get a survey done?

The government advice states that, ‘ 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.

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