On 20th April 2020, the government issued its long-awaited guidance on moving home during the pandemic. Below, we have set out the main points. Should you have any questions, please email us or call 01225 755656.
In March, with the lockdown looming, many thousands of people at various stages of moving home found themselves engulfed in uncertainty and confusion. Provisional guidance issued by the government on 25th March went little further than saying:
“Home buyers and renters should, as far as possible, delay moving to a new house while emergency measures are in place to fight coronavirus.”
On 20th April, the government at last issued guidance to both the legal profession and the public in relation to “moving home” during the current pandemic. While it is clear that this guidance is aimed largely at resolving, as far as possible, uncertainty surrounding buying and selling homes, some of the more general principles are equally applicable to those renting. Below we have set out the main points for buyers, sellers, landlords and tenants.
By way of introduction, the guidance says:
“Recognising parties will need to alter common practice, we have sought to ease this process for all involved by:
- Issuing this guidance, developed with Public Health England, to home buyers and those involved in the selling and moving process.
- Agreeing with banks that mortgage offers should be extended where delay to completions takes place in order to prioritise safety.
- Working with conveyancers to develop a standard legal process for moving completion dates.”
The general advice remains very simple:
“Home buyers and renters should, where possible, delay moving to a new house while measures are in place to fight coronavirus (COVID-19).”
If you have not exchanged contracts
It is clear from the above that if contracts have not already been exchanged, unless there are very exceptional circumstances, all parties should agree to delay.
If you have exchanged contracts
“Our advice is that if you have already exchanged contracts and the property is currently occupied then all parties should work together to agree a delay or another way to resolve this matter.
“If moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and the parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay, people must follow advice on staying away from others to minimise the spread of the virus.”
Even if moving is unavoidable contractually, one or more parties may not be able to move without breaching the guidance of Public Health England. In those circumstances the government says:
“In line with government’s advice, anyone with symptoms, self-isolating or shielding from the virus, should follow medical advice which will mean not moving house for the time being, if at all possible. All parties should prioritise agreeing amicable arrangements to change move dates for individuals in this group, or where someone in a chain is in this group.”
However, it is of concern that the phrase “if at all possible” might encourage one or more parties to bring undue pressure on others to breach PHE guidance.
What if an extension goes beyond the terms of a mortgage offer?
“UK Finance have today confirmed that, to support customers who have already exchanged contracts for house purchases and set dates for completion, all mortgage lenders are working to find ways to enable customers who have exchanged contracts to extend their mortgage offer for up to 3 months to enable them to move at a later date.
“If a customer’s circumstances change during this 3 month period or the terms of the house purchase change significantly and continuing with the mortgage would cause house buyers to face financial hardship, lenders will work with customers to help them manage their finances as a matter of urgency.”
For the benefit of everyone
The property world has not experienced anything like this before and the guidance provided will not be applicable to all transactions. The move to a new property is already a highly stressful process and current circumstances are not helping those who have no alternative other than to move for either personal or contractual reasons. However, the focus should be on ‘agreeing amicable arrangements’ for the benefit of all involved.