The outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) poses significant issues for the residential property market. Selling properties and moving home, like all areas of life, have been made more challenging by the pandemic.
The Government has advised to urge parties involved in home moving to adapt and be flexible to alter their usual procedures in response to the crisis.
Where parties have already committed to a completion date falling within the social distancing period to a property which is currently occupied, the advice is to delay the completion date with all parties working together to achieve this.
A written agreement varying the contract should be entered into. This agreement must explicitly state that there is not an intention to create a new contract, but simply an intention to vary the existing contract.
Those who have contracted to purchase a vacant property with a fixed completion date falling within the distancing period, may not need to delay completion. These parties are advised to follow guidelines on staying away from others. Although any person with symptoms or who is self-isolating, should not move house for the time being.
Completions are able to continue in certain circumstances, for example if you are buying a property as an investment and the property is vacant or involves a sitting tenant.
Take note that the government’s advice to delay the completion date (when parties typically move) beyond the current unknown distancing period, is expected to be reviewed on Thursday 16 April 2020.
Simultaneous Exchange and Completions
The guidance allows for exchange of contracts to take place where the completion date is significantly into the future. However, if you do think that it is possible for you to proceed, then a simultaneous exchange and completion (exchanging contracts and completing on the same day and time) should be considered.
You may agree a date and then decide whether simultaneous exchange and completion is suitable. A simultaneous exchange and completion will enable parties to review the government advice and their situation frequently and then come to a decision.
However, simultaneous exchange and completion should be carefully considered, taking into account the following:
- If there is a property chain, where multiple transactions occur at the same time, all of the parties must agree. If one party wants to withdraw or delay, you cannot complete.
- Without a date being set for completion, there is a risk of something going wrong on a certain day.
- As government advice is being updated regularly, this might affect the proposed date.
- If completion doesn’t take place on the agreed date, and you have hired a removal company, they may be unable to return your deposit back to you.
To lessen the impact of COVID, the Bank of England cut interest rates to 0.1%, lower than the rate of 0.25% after the financial crash in 2007. Activity in the mortgage market was already at a four-year high before the first rate cut to 0.25% on March 11 2020.
Mortgage rates have already been at near-record lows. While those on variable rate mortgages, which follow the bank’s base rate, will pay slightly less on their mortgage repayments. However, fixed-rate mortgages which form the majority of borrowers, will not be affected.
The Government also agreed to support lenders offering mortgage repayment holidays to homeowners whose finances are affected by the virus, as well as buy-to-let landlords whose tenants are unable to pay their rent.
UK mortgage lenders have committed to enable customers to extend their existing mortgage offers for three months where clients have committed to exchange of contracts to enable them to move later.
Please stay in touch with your solicitor and notify them of any possible sickness as soon as possible. If completion has to be re-negotiated, then the sooner the other contracting parties can be informed.