Conveyancing groups issue contract variation guidance

Smee: Real collegiate effort Photo: VisMedia

Organisations representing conveyancers have joined forces to issue guidance on handling matters during the coronavirus pandemic, including how to vary completion dates where contracts have already been exchanged.

The group behind it includes the Law Society, the Society of Licensed Conveyancers, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Bold Legal Group and the Conveyancing Association, and has the support of government departments including HM Land Registry.

Its primary purpose is to help conveyancers assist clients and comply with the government statement issued last week that said they should continue to support the sales process “as far as possible” but look to change dates of completion during the lockdown where possible.

The new guidance says: “It’s important to try and avoid allegations, however unjustified, that the conveyancing profession is encouraging its clients to carry out transactions against the spirit as well as the letter of government requirements.

“However, once you’ve provided advice about deferring the transaction and the client or clients instruct you in writing to continue to complete the contract then, if it’s legally possible to do so, you must follow your client’s instructions.”

The group has agreed a draft clause and the process for firms to follow when varying a completion date.

The guidance says conveyancers need to exchange a written agreement to alter the existing contract, either signed electronically by the clients or signed by the conveyancers with their clients’ permission.

It cautions: “Before exchange of the agreement effecting the deferred completion date, conveyancers should ensure their clients understand the benefits and risks and are advised in accordance with their own circumstances.”

The clause should state that once the government-imposed restrictions end, there will be a period of time agreed before the move to enable everyone to get ready.

Conveyancers should tell clients to make sure the timescale would give them enough time to find removals and arrange the move, “especially in circumstances where there is likely to be an increased demand for these services”.

The guidance steers those who have yet to exchange away from doing so, but says that if they do instruct their conveyancer to exchange, they should make sure there is a Covid-19 clause already incorporated.

Paul Smee, chair of the Conveyancing Association, said: “Firms should be prepared for a changing situation and their service will need to respond flexibly in order to comply with the government’s evolving objectives…

“This has been a real collegiate effort amongst a range of conveyancing trade and sector bodies, plus the regulators and government departments such as HM Land Registry, to provide this supplementary guidance that should help firms to work through such cases.”

Law Society president Simon Davis added: “The Law Society recognises the real difficulties faced by those who are trying to move home, particularly for those who have exchanged contracts, but are not able to complete, for a variety of reasons created by the restricted movement requirements…

“There are no simple solutions and the position is one that is fluid and changing. We will keep it under review and if necessary, step in again.”

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