Neil Riley, head of our residential conveyancing team, explains how the easing of restrictions on the property sector is helping house buyers and sellers progress their transactions…
The government’s recent announcement that the property sector can return to work is very welcome news to us and many clients eager to proceed with their sales and purchases.
In the days since the restrictions were eased, we have seen increased activity from those who have been waiting patiently for the lockdown to ease, so they can finalise completion arrangements. Likewise, new buyers and sellers have been getting in touch, eager to start their house moving journey.
Is it business as usual then?
In the past few weeks, our conveyancing department has been working incredibly hard to progress property transactions as far as possible, so clients were ready to move when the lockdown came to an end.
Whilst the market can now resume, it is a little early to say it is business as usual. Everyone involved in the buying and selling process needs to make their part of the transaction ‘Covid-secure’ and ensure social distancing measures are in place. Many firms have been operating with fewer staff or have been closed completely, so we anticipate it will take a little time before the sector is back to ‘normal.’
We remain committed to taking responsible and proportionate precautions to protect our employees and clients and although we are reviewing operations, for the moment, our offices remain closed to visitors. However, all of our conveyancing teams are fully operational and equipped to continue working from home, progressing and dealing with transactions up to and including completion.
Is the sale of my house going to take longer than before?
Even at the best of times, it is impossible to say with any certainty how long a conveyancing transaction will take.
Whilst the easing of restrictions means we can now progress to exchange of contracts and completion, it is likely we will see some delays in the process in the coming weeks. Adjustments need to be made, for example, with property viewings, valuations and surveys, etc.
We will, of course, be doing all we can to ensure your transaction goes as smoothly as possible, but buyers and sellers need to be mindful there are additional risks involved in proceeding at this time. Restrictions could be re-imposed with little or no notice or you, or others in the chain, could be unwell or need to self-isolate, meaning you are unable to move.
Would I still be in breach of contract if I cannot complete due to a coronavirus-related issue?
Prior to exchange of contracts, neither party in a property transaction has any legal liability to the other.
Once contracts have exchanged, however, you are obliged to complete on the agreed date. From a seller’s point of view, this means you will usually have to move out of your property and buyers need to pay the purchase money across to the seller’s solicitor, via their solicitor. If you are selling and buying on the same day, then both transactions need to be synchronised.
If you are unable to complete, for whatever reason, including a matter arising from the current pandemic, you will be in breach of contract. The implications can range from payment of interest, to potentially the loss of your deposit (for buyers) and covering any costs that might arise as a result of the breach.
When you buy and sell at the same time, it is important to remember that although the two transactions might be dependent on each other, they remain separate and distinct, with different obligations.
We continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure normal service can resume as soon as possible, but if you have any particular concerns, please speak to the person leading your transaction on their direct dial number or via email.
Please see an advice sheet which may help further on the topic COVID-19 – House Buying Advice >>