The buyers in limbo as they’re told don’t move house in lockdown

Susanna Wood is due to move in less than three weeks but isn’t sure if this will still go ahead

Homebuyers have been left in limbo after the Government urged the public not to move house during the coronavirus lockdown. 

Those in the middle of the buying process told us they are now unsure when they will be able to complete on the purchase of their new home.

One purchaser said they have committed to buy a new flat but their buyer has pulled out.

And one couple are due to move in less than three weeks, but are unsure whether they’ll be able to do so at all. 

The housing market has been thrown into chaos amid the coronavirus outbreak, with reports that banks are limiting their mortgage lending and removal firms shutting their doors. 

Confusion followed an announcement by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who urged the public to cancel plans to exchange house contracts.

First-time buyer, Susanna Wood, exchanged on her new home at the start of this month, with her boyfriend.

At that time, coronavirus was not the issue in Britain that it is now, and no announcements about lockdown or not buying a home had been made by the Government.

As such, the couple had no concerns about proceeding with the purchase and had a completion date set for 15 April.

But now they do not know if they can even move home. Susanna has been in touch with her solicitors and has been told that, so far, the move is ‘progressing as planned’.

Susanna, who works for the savings app Plum, said the couple don’t know if they can move home – and they have given notice on their rented flat.

She said: ‘We’re hoping the move still goes ahead on that date and is not delayed as we don’t know what could then happen. It may be months before we move.

‘If it doesn’t we’re concerned about where we can go as the country has been told not to visit friends or family amid the coronavirus, let alone stay with them.’ 

However, even if the sale goes ahead, the removal company has cancelled their booking and the couple are struggling to find a replacement. 

If it doesn’t happen we’re concerned about where we can go 

Homebuyer, Susanna Wood 

She said: ‘It’s now looking like our only option is to rent a van and do it ourselves.

‘This may be just about feasible for the two of us moving out of a tiny one-bed, but I’m not sure how bigger families will be able to do it.’

The couple are currently living in a rental flat, which they need to leave on 14 April after giving two months’ notice. They were hoping to stay with family that night before moving into their new home.

However, there are now restrictions in place on visiting friends and family.

Homebuyers are now unsure when they will be able to complete the purchase of their home

Homebuyers are now unsure when they will be able to complete the purchase of their home

Under normal circumstances, once exchanged, the completion date must be adhered to or a party can sue. 

However, estate agent trade body NAEA Propertymark has suggested that if all parties’ solicitors agreed, dates could perhaps be pushed back.

As an example of how many people could be affected by the housing market freeze, in January this year some 70,900 buyers were approved for a mortgage. 

This number doesn’t include those buying property with cash without needing to secure a loan. 

Allowing for the average eight to 12 week period between agreeing a sale and moving, this indicates that tens of thousands of people are potentially now stuck in limbo as they would have expected to move in the next three weeks. 

Anna Manby is one of these buyers. She told This is Money she has nearly completed the house buying process, but her mortgage lender has now stopped replying to her emails. 

‘Our house move has been eventful and, at times, incredibly frustrating,’ she said. ‘Our offer had been accepted on a new place, searches were done and the surveys were all completed.

‘We just received our mortgage offer confirmation via our broker last week but we need an official letter from the bank to arrange exchange and completion. It has been a week and it still hasn’t come – we’ve been informed the bank are now operating with less than half their staff and there’s a major backlog. 

‘It’s stressful to think that anything could happen in the economy now that could make all of this fall through at the very last hurdle.’

Michael Gove suggested yesterday that people should cancel plans to move house

Michael Gove suggested yesterday that people should cancel plans to move house 

Anna and her partner aren’t part of a chain, so won’t have to worry about finding a place to live if their sale falls through. 

However, it’s likely they will lose all the money they have spent so far trying to secure the house. 

We may be in a situation where we’ve exchanged but won’t be able to complete for months 

She said: ‘If it falls through we’ll be stuck where we are with the foreseeable future and we will have spent a lot of money on applications, surveys and solicitor fees. 

‘Although it’s stressful to think about, it’s out of our control and in the context of everything that is happening in the world at the moment it seems small. I know a lot of people are in much more difficult situations.

‘We’re still hopefully it’ll all go through – but I know the Land Registry in Scotland has shut, which could also happen in England soon. 

‘So we may be in a situation where we’ve exchanged but won’t be able to complete for months. 

If it does all happen, we might not actually be able to move simply because moving companies are barred from operating.

‘The companies we have spoken to aren’t clear if they can do anything and are looking for more guidance from the Government. We could always rent a car and make a few trips, although I’m not even sure if you can rent a car at the moment – that’ll be next on my list of enquiries.’ 

If the lockdown period continues beyond the initial three week period, even more buyers will be affected. 

Only those who have exchanged contracts are locked into completion dates, but even those who have not got this far may be expecting to exchange imminently and may now feel unable to commit, throwing their plans into disarray.

Those who are part of a chain also need to worry about whether the buyer for their property will be able to complete the purchase.  

Another buyer, Steve Smith, told This is Money that the buyer for his home has had to pull out, putting the purchase of a new build home in jeopardy.

He said: ‘Today I received a call from my solicitor informing me that due to the buyer of my property losing his job as a consequence of coronavirus. They have had to pull out of the deal.

‘We were in the process of signing missives. This has an effect on the purchase of our new build home that I’ve paid a significant amount of money on on upgrades.’ 

Trying to move? What you can do 

If you’re trying to move house and are unsure how the Government’s announcement will affect you, removal quote provider Reallymoving has put together the following advice: 

Securing a mortgage 

· Be prepared to provide evidence of job security, something banks will be checking even more closely than usual.

· With surveyors currently unable to carry out valuation surveys, expect your application to be delayed.

· If you already have a mortgage offer in place, speak to your lender to check that the offer is still valid and that the level of borrowing you’re taking on remains manageable if your job situation has changed.

Managing legals

· If you have not yet exchanged, hold off for now. Spend this period of time ensuring that all queries have been answered and as much of the process has been completed as possible, so you’re ready to press the button and exchange as soon as the lockdown is lifted.

· If you have already exchanged and are due to complete within the next three weeks, speak to your solicitor as soon as possible to try and agree a new completion date beyond the lockdown period with all other parties.

· If you have already exchanged with a completion date beyond the next three weeks, monitor the situation closely. Ask your solicitor to begin conversations with other parties – you may need to act quickly to agree a new date if the lockdown period is extended.

· Money laundering checks, which require buyers to provide certified copies of proof of identity and proof of address documents, can currently still be carried out at the Post Office.

· There will be delays to searches as Local Authority offices go into lockdown and cannot physically carry them out. If searches on your purchase have not yet been completed, you may have to wait until lockdown restrictions are lifted. 

Arranging a survey

· It will no longer be possible for a surveyor to carry out a survey on a property as this is considered non-essential activity. Buyers will need to wait for restrictions on movement to be lifted.

Moving day

· The British Association of Removers has issued guidance to its members to postpone all moves during the lockdown period, except those which are already underway. 

· While the vast majority of removals will now be delayed, movers can still get quotes and choose a removals firm in advance of their move.

· Surveys can be carried out over Facetime in order to provide removals quotes, which will take a little longer than an in-person visit. However, these may result in missing items, so be sure to double check the quote to make sure everything is included.

Rob Houghton, chief executive of Reallymoving, said: ‘Those who now unexpectedly find themselves at home with time on their hands, should use it wisely to get all their affairs in order. Do as much online research as possible, prepare your home and garden for sale and ensure you’re in the best position to move forward when the crisis subsides.’

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.