With the majority of the UK now in another nationwide lockdown, as coronavirus rates continue to rise, and many people hoping to move before the Stamp Duty Land Tax holiday ending in March 2021, we summarise all you need to know about moving house during a lockdown or at home on a 14 day quarantine.
If non-essential businesses are closed, are you still able to move house?
The answer is yes, you are still able to move as normal for the time being. The rules around moving are not currently as strict as they were during the first national lockdown earlier in 2020. In a full lockdown, or even when a city or region is in a tier 3 lockdown, you are still currently able to move. All businesses involved in the process of moving home will remain open and able to work, including removals firms, estate agents, mortgage advisors and conveyancers.
The process of moving home may have changed somewhat during 2020, regardless of whether you are in a lockdown or not. The ‘new norm’ for moving will mean you might experience the following:
More of the process is moving online
Being a purely online conveyancing firm, we were fortunate enough to be ready and prepared for the quick shift from mostly office-based working to purely online. In a few swift days, our office staff were geared up with laptops and sent home to continue business as normal for our clients. Whilst this isn’t new to us, there are many other businesses and parties involved in a house move that have had to adjust, including estate agents, local councils, banks and mortgage advisors.
Be flexible, and account for (and expect) delays
For many people, moving house during 2020 will be so different to what it may have looked like this time 12 months ago. Historically, we have been able to fairly accurately predict a realistic exchange date based on the time it takes searches to return, everyone in the chain being reliable and market conditions being strong. This year has seen almost every UK business forced into working from home including local councils, search providers, banks and other legal firms which has inevitably slowed things down. Mortgage lenders are also becoming increasingly risk averse as many people remain furloughed or unable to work, or even face the unfortunate possibility of redundancy. With this brings a lot of uncertainty to each individual case – the possibility that someone in the chain could have their mortgage withdrawn, significant delays in searches being returned, high staff sickness levels in areas where the virus is rife or another party in the chain having to isolate for 14 days due to coronavirus symptoms.
What can we do to help you?
We will try to guide you through all of this uncertainty and work to protect you, and one way we are doing this is to discuss the option of a ‘Covid clause’ in your contract. Each situation is different, and your conveyancer will work with you to determine whether you need this clause to reduce the risk of, or impact of, breaches in contract which could expose you to additional costs or inconvenience.
A Covid clause within the contract offers parties the ability to exchange contracts and fix in a completion date, but subject to the ability to delay things in certain specific circumstances (related to COVID19) without incurring the usual penalties for breach of contract. (Speak to a conveyancing solicitor for full advice.)
Our clients have three basic options:
1. A short time between exchange and completion with no Covid clause (an expedition fee may apply in this instance)
2. A gap between exchange and completion – with the addition of a Covid clause
3. A gap between exchange and completion – without the addition of a Covid clause
What is best will depend on your circumstances, your attitude to risk, the transaction and what can be agreed with other parties involved – if anyone in the chain is going to insist on the inclusion of a clause, the whole chain will have to agree to it’s terms, however ultimately it has to be your choice as to whether you are willing to proceed.
For instance, for a mortgage funded client in a chain, especially with a high value property, we would usually recommend option 2 to minimise risk. Whereas a seller of a stand alone sale of an empty property may well want option 3 because the risk is much lower.
With lenders clamping down, lockdowns, local lockdowns, infection rates rising and track and trace resulting in more people being required to self isolate without notice, it’s as important as ever that we talk all clients through the options early, so you have plenty of time to think about it and we make sure we understand your circumstances.
If you would like to receive a quote for us to act on your behalf, please visit our quote page.
It’s also important to consider that although the full lockdown restrictions are currently in place, when these are lifted, we could go back into the three-tier system for England. This was originally introduced by the Prime Minister in October and split cities and regions into either medium, high or very high risk categories, with each level having its own associated lockdown rules. (Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have different rules in place to limit the spread). For any updates on lockdown restrictions or localised lockdowns, you can visit gov.co.uk.