Following the Government’s announcement on March 23rd that the country would be placed in lockdown, the official advice concerning moving followed two days later on March 25th. The Government has said that so far as possible people should delay moving home during this time to try to limit the spread of the disease.
That said, they have acknowledged that parties may have already exchanged contracts and a delay may not be possible and some transactions may still be able to proceed subject to meeting the strict social distancing criteria.
However, if any party involved displays symptoms of COVID-19 or is self-isolating due to suspected contact with an infected party, the transaction must not proceed and the transaction must be delayed notwithstanding an exchange may have already taken place.
So what does this actually mean?
Each transaction will be different and there is no answer to fit all. Vendors and purchasers need to carefully consider whether the move they were planning can be undertaken whilst adhering to the social distancing rules and if not, a delayed completion date must be agreed. The British Association for Removers were quick to advise their members to cease to move parties following the Government announcement, naturally this has impacted on the number of transactions that can proceed during this time, as many rely on removers to move them.
It seems generally accepted that where the property being purchased is empty and parties do not require assistance to move, that the transaction can still proceed. But, careful consideration needs to be given to key collection particularly as many estate agents offices are now closed. If parties hand keys over direct, they must ensure social distancing measures are complied with.
If the property is occupied or a party is displaying symptoms or self-isolating then the advice is to delay completion.
What about my mortgage?
Generally mortgage offers are issued for a period of 6 months and there is a possibility that a mortgage offer may expire before the move can take place. The Government has asked lenders to assist and offer a 3 month extension beyond the original expiry date to those parties who have already exchanged to ensure transactions can still proceed once the movement restrictions are lifted. Santander in the last few days have confirmed a 3 month extension to those parties who had already exchanged and 2 month extension to those who had not.
What if we cannot reach an agreement to delay?
If you have already exchanged contracts and cannot reach an agreement with the other party to delay completion, you could still move provided you can do so in accordance with the Government guidance. If not, then the contract will likely be treated as frustrated due to the incapability of it being able to be performed. The Courts would have to consider the circumstances of each transaction to determine the position which would be a costly and time consuming process.