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Coronavirus – What does it mean for moving house?

March 19, 2020

In these uncertain times, we wanted to cover what you need to know from a conveyancing perspective about the current situation.

As responsible employers and business owners, we are committed to taking reasonable precautions within our control to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus while maintaining full business services so far as possible. This may involve reducing non-essential client and business meetings and having more staff working from home, at certain times. With our modern IT focused business, we are confident that as a large firm with a number of separate offices, we can minimise any disruption.

You will appreciate however that the situation is unprecedented and as such we have to keep everything under review and we will follow all guidance issued by the appropriate authorities –however subject to the constraints of safety, our aim remains to service our clients and their needs as effectively and smoothly as we possibly can.

What this means for you moving house

There are special legal considerations for clients who are entering into contracts for the sale and purchase of properties.

As I am sure you know, once you have exchanged contracts, all parties are contractually bound to complete on the agreed completion date. If you were unable to complete on time, whatever the reason, including Coronavirus as things stand, you would be in breach of contract.

The implications of this can range from payment of interest under the contract for a late completion (calculated by the contractual interest rate which is usually 4% above the Bank of England’s base rate which is then applied on the price and divided by 365 to give a daily rate of interest payable for everyday that you are late in completing). to potentially the loss of the 10% deposit (for buyers), and other reasonable costs which might flow from the breach of contract.

At present the advice from the Law Society and the profession generally is that it is not a viable option to insert clauses into sale/purchase contracts to cover the Coronavirus – not least because such clauses cannot protect everyone in a chain and such clauses become ineffective if one person in the chain would not agree.

Possible solutions

We are hopeful that solicitors, banks, lenders and removal companies will be very much ‘business as usual’, and that if there are problems, parties will work together and take a pragmatic and sympathetic approach to any problems (as they affect us all) and ensure that transactions complete as quickly as possible with the minimum of disruption. However, we must be alive to the possibility that we could reach a time where there are delays, for example in lenders releasing mortgage funds, other parties’solicitors not being fully operational or removal companies being short staffed or having access issues. With co-operation, there are ways in which these issues can be resolved but the legal position remains that the contract is the contract and binding regardless of the reasons for any failure to complete.

Very Important

Do check with all of those involved in your conveyancing transaction prior to exchange of contracts, consider the length of time that you need between exchange and completion (keeping this as short as possible to minimise the chance of a problem), and think about arrangements you could make should you or a member of your family need to self-isolate during the moving period. Work with your agents and keep lines of communication open.

At present we anticipate that transactions will proceed as normal and there is no reason to be unduly concerned or change any plans, but we wanted to highlight this to you, and reassure you that we have given consideration to the current situation, have plans in place and will continue to monitor developments.

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