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Government slams brakes on housing market allowing only ‘critical’ moves

  • 27/03/2020
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The government is urging people to delay or not begin the process of buying or selling a home unless it is absolutely critical.


But it added there was no need to pull out of transactions and said it was working with conveyancers to establish a standard legal process for moving completion dates.

Trade bodies UK Finance and the Building Societies Association (BSA) have announced an agreement for mortgage lenders to extend offer terms by three months where contracts have already been exchanged.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government guidance emphasised that in-person viewings by prospective buyers or estate agents should not be conducted under current restrictions.

However, it does permit surveyors to conduct urgent surveys on empty properties or where the occupants are out, providing the tradesperson has no Covid-19 symptoms.

And government powers issued to police forces for enforcing the national movement restrictions allow an exemption for critical home moves, if a new date is unable to be agreed.


Key points

The guidance sets out four key points:

  • Home buyers and renters should, where possible, delay moving to a new house while measures are in place to fight Covid-19.
  • If contracts have already been exchanged and the property is currently occupied then all parties should work together to agree a delay or another way to resolve this matter.
  • If moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and the parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay, people must follow advice on staying away from others to minimise the spread of the virus.
  • Anyone with symptoms, self-isolating or shielding from the virus, should follow medical advice which will mean not moving house for the time being, if at all possible. All parties should prioritise agreeing amicable arrangements to change move dates for individuals in this group, or where someone in a chain is in this group.


It also highlighted difficulties that are likely to occur should people attempt to buy or sell a home during the restrictions and recommended those thinking of selling should use the time to start gathering together all the information needed for potential purchasers.

“Getting your home onto the market may be more challenging than usual in this period,” it said.

“There should be no visitors to your home. You can speak to estate agents over the phone and they will be able to give you general advice about the local property market and handle certain matters remotely but they will not be able to start actively marketing your home in the usual manner.”



In-person surveys and valuations have largely ceased following the government’s implementation of lockdown measures earlier this week.

This has severely hampered much of the mortgage industry, however the government guidance suggests that some in-person valuations may be able to take place.

For surveyors, it says they should not expect to carry out non-urgent surveys in homes where people are in residence, and no inspections should take place if any person in the property is showing symptoms, self-isolating or being shielded.

“It may be possible to carry out some of your work online and also carry out urgent surveys on empty properties, or those where the occupants are out of the property or following guidance to stay at home and away from others,” the guidance states.

Surveyors should follow the latest government guidance which currently states that work carried out in people’s homes can continue, provided the tradesperson is well and has no symptoms of coronavirus.

Distancing guidelines must be followed, including maintaining a two-metre distance from others, and washing hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds, or using hand sanitiser gel if soap and water is not available.

No work should be carried out by a person who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild.



Conveyancers should continue to support the sales process as far as possible and should make sure clients are aware of the difficulties of completing transactions in this period, according to the guidance.

Sales of unoccupied properties should be supported as far as possible, but every effort should be made to support clients due to complete on occupied properties in the stay-at-home period to change the date.

Conveyancers should also advise clients who are ready to move not to exchange contracts on an occupied property unless they have made explicit provision for the risks presented by the virus.

Conveyancers should prioritise support for anyone with symptoms, self-isolating or shielding from the virus and those they are in chain with, and help find a new date to be agreed.


Estate agents and removal firms

The guidance also covers estate agents and removal firms.

Agents are reminded not to open branches or visit homes to carry out appraisals – only progressing sales as far as can be done by staying at home.

And they should advise clients to be patient and not to exchange contracts unless the contracts have explicit terms to manage the timing risks presented by the virus.

For removal firms, the government said a small number of moves may need to go ahead.

Removers should honour their existing commitments where it is clear that the move can be done safely for the client and staff and it is clear that the moving date cannot be changed.

They should also follow the latest government guidance which currently states that work carried out in people’s homes can continue, provided the tradesperson is well and has no symptoms.



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