Conveyancing cheer as government reopens housing market

Jenrick: Clear plan

Conveyancers, estate agents and others involved in the home-moving process can return to work today in line with social distancing advice, the government announced last night.

But it today urged conveyancers to conduct as much of their business remotely as possible.

In a move to re-start the housing market, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said estate agents’ offices could open, viewings were permitted, show homes could open, and removal companies and the other essential parts of the sales and letting process “are re-started with immediate effect”.

A statutory instrument coming into effect today amends the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 to allow for the usual activities involved in buying, selling, letting or renting a residential property.

The government said more than 450,000 buyers and renters have been unable to progress their plans to move since the March lockdown.

More detailed guidance issued today said conveyancers could open for business and take on new instructions. “They should make sure their clients are aware of the differences in completing transactions during this period.”

It said conveyancers should aim to conduct as much of their business remotely as possible, and put in place appropriate social distancing and hygiene measures where client meetings need to take place.

“Conveyancers should do what they can to promote flexibility making provisions for the risks presented by coronavirus, for example when advising their clients who are ready to move not to exchange contracts on an occupied property unless they have made explicit provision for the risks presented by the virus.”

Lawyers should also prioritise support for anyone clinically vulnerable or shielding, or with symptoms of coronavirus or self-isolating, to agree a new date to move.

The guidance tells home buyers and sellers that their legal adviser should help ensure that “any contract you enter into has sufficient flexibility to allow the purchase to be delayed in the event that an individual in one of the parties contracts coronavirus or has to self-isolate”.

This has since been supplemented further by an industry guide, backed by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government which sets out in detail how home moves can take place while still complying with social distancing measures and Public Health England guidance.

The guide was agreed by an industry-wide group comprised of representatives from the Law Society, Council for Licensed Conveyancers, Bold Legal Group, Conveyancing Association, Society of Licensed Conveyancers and other bodies representing estate agents, letting agents, surveyors, search companies, home movers and others involved in the home-moving process.

The ministry has also issued guidance to allow extended working hours on construction sites and to make the planning system operate remotely –councils and developers will be able to publicise planning applications through social media instead of having to rely on posters and leaflets.

A ‘safe working charter’ – launched in conjunction with the Home Builders Federation – will enable home builders to return to work.

Mr Jenrick said: “Our clear plan will enable people to move home safely, covering each aspect of the sales and letting process from viewings to removals.

“Our step-by-step plan is based on the latest guidance to ensure the safety and protection of everyone involved. This critical industry can now safely move forward, and those waiting patiently to move can now do so.”

Another change to the planning system will let councils support smaller developers by allowing them to defer Community Infrastructure Levy payments.

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