Conveyancing: Government urges home movers to delay

Conveyancing: Firms moving to simultaneous exchange and completion

The government has urged home buyers and renters to delay moving to a new house if possible during the coronavirus lockdown and said there must be social distancing if they cannot.

There have been questions in recent days over whether home sales and purchases are essential transactions that can continue.

In a statement issued yesterday, the government said: “Home buyers and renters should, as far as possible, delay moving to a new house while emergency measures are in place to fight coronavirus.

“If moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and the parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay, people must follow advice on social distancing to minimise the spread of the virus.

“Anyone with symptoms, self-isolating or shielding from the virus, should follow medical advice and not move house for the time being.”

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will follow this up with more detailed guidance.

The clarification has come as conveyancers have been adopting simultaneous exchange and completion as their preferred method during the crisis.

A survey carried out online earlier in the week by Rob Hailstone, chief executive of the Bold Legal Group (BLG), found that 54% of conveyancers said they were doing this, with 40% having just a “short period” between exchange and completion. The other 6% inserted additional clauses in the sale contract instead.

One BLG member said simultaneous exchange and completion was the lesser of two evils.

“If we exchange one week and then fix completion for the following week and the risk is that if for some reason we cannot complete due to the coronavirus, the buyers in the chain lose their deposits.

“If we do a simultaneous, the risk is that the clients lose the money paid to their removal companies and their earnings for a day they could be at work. The loss from a simultaneous is considerably less that losing a 10% deposit.”

Home counties firm IBB told home movers yesterday that if simultaneous exchange and completion was not possible, “then bespoke provisions drafted around the completion date need to be agreed in the contract to allow for longer ‘on or before’ and ‘long-stop date’ completion provisions”.

These should be supplemented with rescission clauses should completion be in jeopardy because of the coronavirus impacting the parties to the contract, connected professionals, banks, service suppliers and ancillary unforeseen matters. “Great care needs to be taken in the drafting of such bespoke provisions,” it said.

For those that have already exchanged, it suggested trying to “amicably” agree addendums to the contract to make provision for delayed completion, for example.

The current guidance from the British Association of Removers (BAR) to its members is that they should only complete any moves that are underway and immediately cancel or postpone any move that has not yet started.

However, in a message to members, BAR director-general Ian Studd said removal companies wanting to follow the advice were being put in an “intolerable” situation.

This was because conveyancers were still actively planning completions, “the public are still expecting to be moved on the appointed dates and there are sadly some moving companies, both BAR members and non-BAR members alike, who have ignored the advice given and who have chosen to continue operating as normal, or as near normal as is possible under the circumstances”.

In the meantime, the estate agency market is moving entirely online, after the government said estate agents were not “essential businesses” under the new rules and so should close their offices.

Meanwhile, HM Land Registry has told users that it expects “moderate disruption” to discharge updates, with “more significant disruption” to its services to create and update applications. Its other services – from land charges searches and official copies – were largely running as normal.

If an application is urgent, “you can ask us to expedite it under certain circumstances”, it said.

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