Advice for moving home during the lockdown

25th March 2020

Latest advice on moving during lockdown

Like many professionals and individuals we are still waiting to hear from the Government on official advice for people about to exchange contracts, those who have already exchanged and those that are waiting to complete.

In the meantime our advice is:

All sales and purchases that have not been exchanged should be delayed until after the restrictions period. With the current restrictions around leaving your house it could be risky to commit to a financial transaction and contractual obligation at this time. At Burtons our conveyancing staff are fully set up and are able to work from home so we can still proceed to an exchange on your behalf and agree a delayed completion date, however there may be issues if other solicitors and removal firms are unable to continue working effectively.

If you have exchanged, you are legally committed to complete the transaction. So we suggest that you speak to us at Burtons or your legal advisor ASAP and your estate agent or buyer and/or seller. All parties will try to come to a fair and reasonable way forward. We would suggest completing if you are able to quickly. Although you may struggle with removals so you would need to check your removal company or see if you are able to hire a van and move yourselves.

Awaiting confirmation

As professionals we are dealing with matters on a case-by-case basis for the time being, while ensuring we adhere to the Government’s restrictions. We are also awaiting confirmation from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and other stakeholders as to whether home sales and purchases are “essential transactions” that will be able to continue.

The British Association of Removals (BAR), has strongly recommended members to complete any moves that are already underway and cancel or suspend any that haven’t yet commenced. It has said though that the final decision on whether to proceed lays with the individual companies.

Exchange & Completion

If you’re hoping to exchange or complete on your transaction in the next few days or weeks, here is what you should be aware of:-

Expect more to be done digitally; throughout property transactions, physical documents such as Land Registry forms, reports and contracts are changed hands numerous times. You can expect all parties involved to move to a more secure digital document transfer system, email and document sharing platforms. So expect to receive your documentation by email or online rather than hard copies in the post. We at Burtons confirm that we will be exchanging and completing your transactions on scanned signed documents, we have also got a form or authority in place so that you can authorise us via email to sign the contract or any amendment to an already exchanged contract on your behalf.

Make sure password protection is used and avoid possible security breaches by speaking to the person to whom you are sending documents, and especially money, before you press send. Electronic signatures are valid under English Law to execute or sign documents, so do not be concerned if your conveyancer opts for this.

Specific Delays

Given these uncertain times, it will not be unexpected for some buyers or sellers to get “cold feet” – if you sense that this could be the case in your transaction, then speak to your conveyancer here at Burtons about your concerns so we can communicate with other parties in the chain and the estate agents to try and ease nervous party’s fears. We can give assurances that we at Burtons are still progressing files and working to try and achieve exchanges for all of our clients.

In order to make sure your sale or purchase does happen, the key thing is to get through to exchange (when parties are contractually bound and the deposit is paid) and completion (the day the balance of the payment is made and ownership changes hands).

Some of the following could be issues that you as a buyer or seller could encounter now which could be factored into the legal documentation:

• request for properties to be decontaminated
• refuse to vacate on completion because the seller is in isolation
• experience failure or disruption to parts of the banking system (such as CHAPS)
• experience delays in local searches as a result of local authority staff absences
• experience problems with removal companies unwilling to enter properties
• experience difficulties in obtaining witnesses when signing documents

If you are due to exchange contracts

The guidelines from the Law Society advise that we should review existing contracts and test what the position would be in certain situations, as listed above.

If you have a particular concern speak to your conveyancer here at Burtons and ask them to negotiate new provisions to suit your particular circumstances. Bear in mind that any changes to the standard contract will result in some delays whilst party’s instructions are sought.

After exchange

If completion does not take place after contracts have been exchanged due to COVID-19, then we would seek to look at the contract provisions about breach and advise whether a seller failing to complete can be compelled to do so, and whether, in the case of a buyer failing to complete, the seller can keep the deposit and additional costs.

In reality, if the failure to complete is due to illness or self isolation, we would hope that the parties would all work together and take a good faith approach and come to a reasonable agreement regarding any delay.

If the transaction forms part of a chain of transactions, it may not be possible to take such a view without incurring a penalty. Again, we at Burtons would look at this on a case by case basis.

On moving day

We at Burtons will guide you through the completion day and as some Estate Agents offices have now closed down we would seek to find a way for the keys to be handed from one party to the other in a secure and safe way.

If in doubt with anything, please speak to your conveyancer. We are experiencing an unprecedented number of calls at present and we are doing our best to ensure that each of our client’s are spoken to as swiftly as possible, but please bear with us if you need to book a call back.