Will coronavirus affect buying or selling my home?

31 March 2020, 07:45

Could Covid-19 impact on your property transaction?
Could Covid-19 impact on your property transaction? Picture: PA

With Covid-19 having a huge impact on society and the country going into virtual lockdown, what will this mean for property transactions?

With employees working from home where possible and thousands of people self-isolating what happens if you were in the middle of buying or selling a property? And what will be some of the main issues?

One leading property lawyer has said both buyers and sellers could be hit by a range of issues due to coronavirus and the Government's lockdown.

Here's what we know so far.

What are some of the problems with buying or selling property?

Problems obtaining searches because Local Authority offices have been closed

Problems with the banking system meaning approvals and transaction take longer

Possible requests that properties are deep cleaned by buyers prior to moving in

Delays in obtaining signatures on documents due to problems with the postal system

Delays in issuing mortgage offers by lenders because they are working with a skeleton staff or from home

Issues with removal companies who may not be available due to staff self-isolating

Closures of estate agencies affecting handover of keys

Sellers being unable to move out of a property due to self-isolation

Bhavesh Amlani, head of property at Roythornes Solicitors, said: “We have received a number of questions about conveyancing transactions during the crisis but the most common one is simply: will coronavirus affect my property transaction?

“The inevitable answer is yes. There is currently disruption to the entire system so there is likely to be some effect on your transaction. However, what that is and what you can do about it very much depends on the situation and the stage your transaction is at.

“There are several ways that your transaction could be affected. There are multiple parties involved in the buying and selling of a house and the current situation means any, or all, of the parties could be affected by delays and complications."

Mr Amlani outlined some of the solutions which lawyers could use to help both buyers and sellers.

He said: “As lawyers we are bound by the rules of the Law Society, which state that all solicitors act with courtesy, cooperate with third parties, maintain high standards, and deal with others in a fair and honest manner.

“In pure legal terms, if contracts have been exchanged on a transaction and the transaction does not take place then the party(ies) who have been unable to complete would be in ‘default’. However, there is the very real possibility that in these times the non-defaulting party (most likely the buyer of the property) will take a ‘fair’ view.

“Whilst the non-defaulting party could serve a ‘notice to complete’ i.e. force the transaction to take place, we feel this will be unlikely in most cases. We hope patience and common sense will prevail. "

What could be some solutions to selling a house during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Exchange contracts, with a completion date much later in the year - this would commit both parties to the transaction but give some time so that the completion can take place once the outbreak is over

Put a hold on exchange – so that you get all the paperwork in place but do not exchange on the property before the situation becomes clearer. Of course, this would mean there is no legally binding duty on either party to undertake the transaction, and so relies on the trust of all those involved

Exchange and complete simultaneously – again this would rely on trust between the parties, but it would ensure that there is no duty on either party until both sides were ready and when they were, the transaction would be undertaken quickly

“My advice therefore would be to speak with your solicitor. They not only have access to the latest Law Society regulations and guidance notes but will be aware of the current situation both on your transaction and those up and down the chain,” Mr Amlani said.