Possible impacts of COVID-19 on property transactions

For clients in the midst of trying to buy, sell or rent a property, the coronavirus outbreak is causing particular uncertainty at all stages in the process.

We want to reassure you that our property law team will continue to operate as normally as possible to keep all property transactions on course during this difficult and uncertain time.

Nicola Bennell, Head of Residential Conveyancing here at Richard Reed explains that there are a number of things to consider, depending on where you are with your property transaction.

Property viewings

If you are still in the early stages of looking to buy or sell your property, take sensible precautions. Before showing prospective buyers or renters around a property, or before going on a viewing:

  • ask if anyone is unwell or is in isolation when you confirm the appointment, and on arrival;
  • do not shake hands and keep a suitable distance during the viewing; and
  • ensure everyone washes their hands thoroughly on arrival and before leaving the property.
Before exchange of contracts

Circumstances may mean that you might prefer to delay exchange of contracts until the position is clearer, as once you have exchanged you will be legally bound to complete within a certain time frame.

According to guidance from the Law Society ‘If completion does not take place after contracts have been exchanged due to COVID-19, the parties not completing will be in default.  The contract provisions relating to default will apply unless the non-defaulting party takes a ‘good faith’ view.  If the transaction forms part of a chain of transactions, it may not be possible to take such a view without incurring a penalty.’

There may be many issues which could cause a delay in exchanging contracts including:

  • delays in obtaining search results if staff are not available to carry out the searches; and
  • issues in mortgage lending surveys or physical valuations requiring site visits.
Between exchange and completion

There is a difference between transactions where COVID-19 is present and all the other situations where it is a possibility. If you are due to complete the purchase of your property in the next few weeks, you need to let us know if:

  • someone in your family becomes ill – if you or any family member is in isolation or is feeling unwell with symptoms that may be linked to COVID-19 please call us or email immediately to let us know; and
  • if anyone else connected with the transaction becomes ill – if you think or hear that anyone else connected with this transaction is affected, then again please tell us as soon as possible.

Other issues which could arise include:

  • difficulties if a seller or tenant is unable to vacate the property because they are in isolation;
  • reluctance on the part of removal company employees to enter a property;
  • failure or disruption to parts of the banking system (such as CHAPS); or
  • difficulties in obtaining witnesses.
‘Good faith’ measures

Where there are no real concerns about infection and if both buyer and seller are happy to continue, the transaction may still be able to go ahead.

We will try and help you overcome any obstacles as far as possible. For example, there may be some good faith measures that can be put in place if all sides agree such as:

  • waiving default penalties in the contract to allow for a delay in completion;
  • delaying the vacation of the property if someone is unwell or in isolation; and
  • getting the property professionally deep-cleaned.
Our approach

As ever, our conveyancing team’s priority is to focus on your best interests, and we will work closely with the solicitors on the other side to keep any transactions on track as much as possible.

No matter what, it really is business as usual here at Richard Reed and you can find out here how we’re going to do just that during this difficult time.

For further information about this article or any other legal issue that you have at present or think could arise in the future, contact us on 0191 576 0465 or email: [email protected]

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