Advice for clients who have already exchanged contracts
Agree either directly or through your estate agent that your transaction can be deferred.
It’s a good idea to have a two-step process so that you delay the move until the end of the current stay-at-home period and the requirements about physical distancing, but with the ability to extend that timescale if the government restrictions are extended.
The clause should state that once the restrictions end there will be a period of time agreed before you move to enable everyone to get ready for the move. This might be one or two weeks. Make sure the timescale will give you enough time to find removals and arrange your move especially in circumstances where there is likely to be an increased demand for these services.
There’s a formal process required to effect a deferral of a completion date which will involve your conveyancer exchanging agreements on your behalf with the other party to confirm the new arrangements.
If you’re buying a property with a mortgage you should check whether you will need written confirmation from your lender to this extension. (Lenders generally have agreed to extend mortgage offers by three months).
Consider what would happen if your circumstances change during this period, for example, would you still be able to afford the mortgage if you lost your job and had to find new employment?
You should also consider that property values will fluctuate during the period of deferral and this might impact your lender’s ability to lend. This will be particularly important if your mortgage makes up a large proportion of the house price, perhaps 60% or over.
If you’re both buying and selling, bear in mind that if your own buyer or seller’s circumstances change, and they need a mortgage, they may not be financially able to proceed with your transaction at the end of the restrictions.
You should also bear in mind that even when the restrictions are removed there may be other unavoidable delays in your move, perhaps if someone in the chain has died and their estate needs to be settled before the move can be completed. In that case you could agree a further delay or seek to end the contract.
Advice for clients who have not yet exchanged contracts
You can still continue with your transaction and should take this time to work with your conveyancer to progress the transaction and to read through the reams of documents involved in moving house.
You should think very carefully before instructing your conveyancer to exchange contracts, even where completion is a long way off, as the contract will be binding, and you would have to complete even if your financial position had changed.
You should make sure that if you do instruct your conveyancer to exchange, that they have incorporated a suitable clause in the contract to deal with any ongoing risks caused by the virus.
Advice for clients who have to move during the stay-at-home period and the requirements about physical distancing
You should only move during the restrictions if your move is critical and it is safe to do so, for example, where the property is empty. If the empty property is in a chain, it may not be possible to complete without breaking the chain.
You must follow advice from Public Health England and Public Health Wales on social distancing and must not endanger yourself or others during your move.
You should complete a deep clean if you are moving to a new home and must follow the advice given for decontamination of your new home if you know, or have reason to believe, that the previous occupants, or someone which they had been in contact with, has coronavirus.
You can find the full article on the Law Society website at https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/advice/articles/guidance-to-conveyancers-advising-clients-on-house-moves/ .