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Buying a house during coronavirus

View profile for Jemma Jones
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Buying a house during coronavirus

On 13 May 2020, the government brought in new rules for moving house during the COVID-19 outbreak. The current situation is not a return to normality and there are certain things you should think about carefully.

Our expert property lawyers have this advice for you if you are considering selling or buying a house during coronavirus.

How do I prepare to buy and sell a house during COVID-19? 

Deal with as much as you can remotely

For the time being, social distancing is still very important. Rather than meeting with your estate agent and solicitor in person, wherever possible use email, telephone, or video calls to keep in touch. 

All the team at Birkett Long is set up with the right technology to allow us to keep your house move going. If there are occasions where a physical meeting is required, we will put safety measures in place to ensure everyone is protected. We can also offer guidance on how to get documents witnessed whilst isolating.

Documents and identity checks

As part of the conveyancing process, we need to ask you for proof of your identity. Verifying your identity can sometimes be completed using electronic measures but as we have to verify your identity for the Land Registry and mortgage lenders we will still need to verify your ID personally.

Most of the documents that are used during the conveyancing process require us to be in receipt of the original physical document and these can still be posted to us at our Colchester office.  Some documents can be scanned and sent to us but please check with your solicitor before sending documents electronically.

Witnessing signatures during lockdown

Some documents will require witnessing by a third party. Witnessing still has to take place in person - your witness must be able to see you signing the document, whether that’s through a doorway or through a window. Make sure to maintain social distancing rules at all times - remember to ask your witness to bring their own pen and stay at least 2 metres apart, for example.

People who are vulnerable or shielding

If you fall into one of these higher-risk categories, you should seek medical advice as to whether it is safe for you to proceed with a house move. If not, then you will need to discuss whether any changes can be made with your agent and solicitor. They will then negotiate with the other parties involved. The government is asking that everyone prioritise being amicable about arrangements like this.

Property searches and surveys

Our property lawyers carry out searches relating to your property online - you should discuss with your lawyer the likely timescales involved. Surveyors and valuers can undertake surveys of the property you’re looking to buy.

Can I still have viewings of my house during coronavirus? 

Viewings are now allowed, but the advice is to consider virtual, or online, viewings initially.

Be prepared for the professionals you’re dealing with to ask you questions about your COVID-19 status. They may ask whether anyone in the house has had COVID-19 or has displayed any symptoms, is anyone in the house vulnerable, and they may ask about any periods of self-isolation you have completed.

If you have COVID-19, or are self-isolating with a family member, you should not leave your home for viewings or to move home.  You should also not permit viewings at your house. If you are in this position, you should delay viewings or move. 

Don’t be afraid to ask any professionals about their COVID-19 status - you have as much right to ask them the same questions they are asking you if you are welcoming them into your home.

Consider house viewings carefully. Don’t offer an open house viewing, and any viewings that do take place should be by appointment. Limit the number of people attending (1 agent with 2 adults from the same household is preferable), and leave your house while the viewing is taking place, if possible. 

If you are particularly concerned about having viewings at your property, you may wish to discuss with the agent other methods which may be used to protect yourself at the viewings or having people view your house such as you wearing gloves or masks.  You will not offend anyone with these requests.

Request that viewings are short - 15 minutes ideally. Help the people viewing your house by leaving internal doors open. Keep surfaces and handles clean before and after each viewing.

When you’re viewing another property, avoid touching surfaces, wash your hands as often as you can and bring hand sanitiser with you. Again, keep to 2 adults from the same household, plus the agent. Avoid taking children with you.

As far as other visitors go, ask any surveyors or valuers to allow you to answer as many questions before their visit as possible - this will limit their time in your house. If you have tradespeople or removal people in your house, ensure they adhere to social distancing measures.

What delays am I likely to face with my house move now? 

House moves are now proceeding without significant delays. 

However, there are still a number of sectors which are only now returning to work and may have backlogs.  For example, as a number of house moves have been on hold. There may be an increased demand for removal companies, and you should ensure that you will be able to book a removal company on the date you move.  Please however remember not to formally book these until you have actually exchanged contracts as if you change the date you are likely to incur a fee.

Surveyors and mortgage lender valuations can now take place, again and again, there may be a backlog of requests for these services which will mean that your mortgage offer may take slightly longer to come through than usual.  You should consult your lender to check what their status is with regards to this.

Some Local Authorities have been closed and so have not been able to supply Local Searches in respect of property transactions.  Luckily in Essex, we do not appear to have had this problem but there may be backlogs in other counties if you are buying a house outside Essex.

You do however also have to be mindful of the extra precautions that you and the rest of the chain will need to make to be able to move.  You may, therefore, wish to exchange and complete your purchase on the same day to avoid the risk of one party becoming ill.  Whether this is an option will depend on the length of the chain and the parties involved.

Alternatively, you may wish to exchange with a longer completion date but a clause in the contract to be able to move the date should anyone in the chain become affected by COVID-19  This is something that could take a little bit of negotiating as it will need to be agreed by the chain. 

Talk to your lawyer to make sure you’re clear about any restrictions or limitations on service due to COVID-19, for example, things might take longer than usual. Be as flexible as possible if you’re asked to delay. Similarly, talk to your lawyer about any contract you’re entering into, to make sure it allows flexibility should there be a delay due to one of the parties having to self-isolate or being taken ill.

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The COVID-19 situation is evolving constantly, so before taking any action you should check the latest government guidelines

It’s time to get things moving. If you’re ready, then so are we. I am working from home, but available to talk if you need any further advice on moving house. 

I can be contacted on 01206 217368 or jemma.jones@birkettlong.co.uk.

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