What Are My Rights on Moving Home During the Pandemic?
4 May 2020
Updated 8th July 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?
At the start of the lockdown the government advice was that all moves should be delayed apart from those 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. However the government amended its advice as of the 21st May to fall more in line with the government’s ‘Stay Alert. Contain the virus and Save Lives’ slogan. This means that buyers and sellers are now free to move home, albeit adhering to guidelines.
Full advice on moving home during the Covid-19 outbreak can be read on the gov.uk website.
2. Can I view a property in person?
You can view properties in person, however the estate agent and vendor may insist on an initial ‘virtual’ viewing. Open house style viewings are prohibited and physical viewings of properties are to be limited to members of the same household only. It is advisable that:
Advice for people viewing properties:
- When viewing homes in person avoid touching surfaces wherever possible, wash hands regularly, and bring your own hand sanitiser.
- Only people necessary to the viewing should attend. If you do need to bring with small children along, ensure that they also wash their hands and avoid touching surfaces.
- If you are looking to buy a new build property contact the developer to arrange a viewing of the show home.
Advice for those hosting viewings:
- For those showing prospective buyers around your home you should keep all internal doors open throughout the viewing. After the viewer has left you should clean down door handles and any surfaces that may have been touched with standard household cleaning products.
- If possible vacate your property and allow people to look around your home on their own. This will help to minimise contact with those from outside your household.
- Everyone should adhere to government guidelines around social distancing.
It is important to note that those who have contracted Covid-19 or live with someone who has contracted the virus should not leave their home to conduct or host viewings.
3. 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 all properties.
- Doing what we can to promote flexibility and make provisions for the risks presented by Covid-19. This includes advising our clients who are in the position to move, to not exchange contracts on a property, unless they have made explicit provisions 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.
4. Can I accept an offer?
It is possible to make and accept offers as normal. It is however, important to be aware that the buying/selling process will take longer than usual at this time.
Delays in moving dates could happen if anyone in the property chain develops symptoms of the virus and needs to self-isolate. Your solicitor will advise you on what to do in this instance and will help to make sure that contracts and agreements are as flexible as possible to accommodate possible risks.
Once an offer is accepted it is likely that the buyer will wish to visit the property again to do things like measuring up rooms for furniture and home improvements. If the vendor allows this all social distancing measures should be adhered to, in order to minimise the chance of infection.
5. Can I still exchange a contract?
It is still possible to exchange contracts at this time, nevertheless there could be delays in the moving date should any of the parties involved in the chain become ill with coronavirus.
Once contracts have been exchanged you are legally bound to buy or sell the property, it is therefore important that your solicitor ensure that contracts allow for flexibility in the moving date, should anyone need to self-isolate due to contracting the virus.
6. Can I still hire a removal company?
You can hire a removal company to help you with moving your belongings to your new home. It is however advisable to:
- Book a removal firm as early as possible in advance of the expected moving date.
- Do your own packing to minimise the risk of cross infection.
- Clean your belongings, such as TV units, sideboards and other types of hard surface furniture, with domestic cleaning products before they are handled by removal firms.
- Removers 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 are allowed to put your home on the market at this time. However if anyone in the household is presenting symptoms of the virus or are in their recovery, self-isolation period nobody from outside the household is permitted to enter the property. This includes estate agents, photographers or potential buyers. If everyone is well in the household you can:
- Allow estate agents into your property to value it, take photos and conduct viewings.
- Host viewings whilst adhering to social distancing guidelines.
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. Will searches and surveys go ahead?
Your solicitor will be able to conduct the relevant searches on your property online. Timescales differ depending on the local authority involved so it is advisable to speak to your solicitor to get an estimate on how long it will take to compete the searches.
Surveyors are allowed to enter the property in which you intend to purchase as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines. If anyone residing at the property has symptoms of Covid-19, or are self-isolating, the survey will have to be delayed until after their self-isolation period has ended.
10. What are the changes to stamp duty?
On July 8th the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a temporary stamp duty holiday on the first £500,000 of all property sales in England and Northern Ireland.
This is part of the governments bid to help stimulate the economy during the coronavirus pandemic. It will involve increasing the stamp duty threshold from properties valued over £125,000 to £500,000. The ‘stamp duty holiday’ as it is being coined, will stay in place until 31st March 2021, in order to boost the economy and help struggling home buyers, whose finances have been hit due to covid-19.
The changes have been implemented with immediate effect.
So if you are purchasing a residential property in this period up to the value of £500,000 you will be exempt from paying stamp duty. There are exemptions for those buying a second home or a buy-to-let property.