Buying and selling residential property in a COVID-19 era


21 May 2020

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues, the government have put stringent measures in place to protect all members of the public; including quite strict social distancing rules. The guidance is constantly changing and has left many people wondering how this will impact their future property plans.

Here at Birketts, we are looking carefully at each existing and new transaction and tailoring our advice to our clients to help guide them to a successful completion.

This article is intended to give you some insight into advice being given to clients at various stages in a transaction and to provide some reassurance to those clients who may be thinking of progressing a property transaction now or in the near future.

You have already exchanged contracts

The Government has recently relaxed the guidance so that home moves can take place provided that the following rules are followed:

  • social distancing measures must be observed during any home move
  • moves should be postponed if anyone in the chain or their household is self-isolating as a result of having the virus or showing symptoms of the virus
  • those who are clinically vulnerable or shielding should not move unless the move is essential and, in which case, contact must be made with Public Health England or local public health teams for advice.

The Government has asked all conveyancers to support their clients in postponing moves if the rules above cannot be followed and we will be able to guide you through this process if it becomes necessary.

You have not yet exchanged contracts

The starting point is that the same core rules apply as detailed above, however we will also be looking at ways to promote flexibility and protect your position by making specific provision to cover the risks presented by the coronavirus. This includes additional contract clauses specifically dealing with delayed completions as a result of a ‘coronavirus event’.

Such events cover a vast array of potential issues that may arise from the pandemic such as one of the parties becoming infected and having to quarantine, to being unable to secure removal services to facilitate the move. The aim of the clause is to ensure you will not be in breach of the contract by failing to complete due to a ‘coronavirus event’ and as such will not be held liable to pay compensation or any incidental losses resulting from late completion.

Additional clauses may not always be required but this is to be assessed by your Legal Adviser based on the circumstances of your property transaction.

You have found a property to purchase and/or a buyer for your property

If you have found a property you wish to purchase and your offer has been accepted, or you have found a buyer for your own property, you do not need to wait until social distancing rules have ended. The government has announced that the UK property market can be released from lockdown, estate agents and conveyancers are open for business and many viewings are now taking place again. Our specialist residential property teams in offices across East Anglia, Essex and London are working remotely with a small army of IT specialists providing innovative solutions to legal issues and we are able to progress transactions for you.

You are thinking about selling your property but you are concerned about incurring costs in case you don’t find a buyer or change your mind

We appreciate that there is a certain amount of uncertainty for many people at the present time and that plans may change suddenly. In order to allow you to move forward with a proposed property sale as quickly and efficiently as possible, we are introducing a ‘no offer, no fee’ scheme. Under this scheme we will open your file, complete all necessary compliance and title checks and prepare a contract pack in advance of you having accepted an offer or even in advance of having officially taken the property to market. We will then be ready to submit a contract pack as soon as you formally accept an offer. If you later have a change of heart or fail to secure a buyer, we will not charge a fee and you will be free to come back to us at any point in the future to pick things back up. Our fees will only come in effect once an offer has been formally accepted.

You would like to re-mortgage your property or transfer a share to someone else

These transactions can progress as normal subject to some possible delays with mortgage processing.

Our legal advisors are here to guide you through your residential property transaction and discuss all available options so that you can make informed decisions.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at May 2020.