The Government has told the public not to move house during the coronavirus outbreak – but yesterday said there are exceptions in certain circumstances.
Home buyers and sellers were left in limbo this week after the Government urged the public not to move house while the lockdown continues across the country.
As a result tens of thousands of people, such as Katie Beadsworth and her family featured below, are now stuck not knowing whether or not to delay their move – or whether they will even be able to complete their purchase at all.
The Government and Public Health England has now released guidance on what to do if you’re in the middle of buying or selling your home.
So should you move house, delay your purchase, or pull out of the sale completely?
The Government has urged buyers and sellers to put the breaks on any new transactions
If the house you’re moving into is already empty, you can move in
If you’re moving into a vacant property, then the new rules shouldn’t affect you too much – though you’ll find difficulty moving your things, as removal companies have stopped running.
Trade body the British Association of Removers has asked its members to postpone all moves during the lockdown period, except those which are already underway.
If the property you’re buying is currently occupied, however, then the Government has encouraged all parties to ‘do all they can to amicably agree alternative dates to move’, for a time when it’s likely that the lockdown has ended.
Lucy Barber of real estate law firm Forsters said: ‘If you are currently selling your property you will need to make the completion date moveable and conditional upon the current restrictions being removed.
‘For those that have exchanged already you are relying on the good faith of the parties to act sensibly and fairly, bearing in mind these extraordinary circumstances.’
If for whatever reason moving is unavoidable, the Government says you must follow advice on staying away from others. Anyone with symptoms or who is self-isolating should put their move on hold, the Government reiterated.
We were weeks away from moving – now we don’t know when it will be
One of the thousands of buyers left in limbo is Katie Beardsworth, who says her move has been put on hold until the coronavirus lockdown ends.
Katie, 34, along with her husband and young son, were due to move from East Yorkshire to Tyneside in a matter of weeks but now face an indefinite pause while the country waits out the outbreak.
Katie Beardsworth was just weeks away from moving when the lockdown took place
‘We’ve had a house sale and purchase agreed for about two months,’ she says.
All surveys have been done and we’re just finishing off dealing with enquiries on both our sale and purchase.
‘Under normal circumstances we’d be almost ready to exchange contracts, so completing the sales and moving house would be within a few weeks.
‘However, we’ve been advised that our solicitors will get us up to the point of being ready to exchange, but then go no further until the coronavirus spread has slowed enough that it would be safe for us to move.
‘This is for the protection of everyone in the chain – they don’t want anyone to be committed legally to something at these uncertain times.’
Katie, who runs classical music management agency Polyphony Arts, says that her solicitors and estate agents have made the situation easier by keeping in regular contact.
She said: ‘They have kept in touch with us and the other people involved, and we understand that everyone is still keen to go ahead – we certainly are! Everyone seems to be understanding of the situation and that we’ll all have to wait until we can proceed.’
On top of the stress of the delayed move Katie says she is also concerned that when they eventually do move it will be difficult to settle into their new area if communities are still self-isolating.
Katie is worried it will be difficult to settle in to their new area if communities are still self-isolating once they do eventually move house
She said: ‘We will be moving into a new neighbourhood with our young son, and had previously done a great deal of thinking about how best to introduce the idea of moving away from his friends, moving to a new place, a new childcare setting – transitioning him smoothly was something that was very important to us.
‘Now, we are very much in the unknown. We don’t know whether we will be able to make any new friends when we move, or whether we will have to wait to move until we are able to circulate more anyway. We are having to take each day/week as it comes and hope that we’re able to keep our son feeling happy and settled, no matter what happens.
‘This is just one tiny part of an unprecedented situation that is impacting everybody, and it could be much worse, so we are staying positive and hoping for the best.
‘One positive for our buyer is that our garden is much tidier than it otherwise would have been!’
What if an extension goes beyond your mortgage?
Homeowners with mortgages have two problems, the offer of a deal they need to move home running out and their current fixed rate expiring.
Mortgage lenders have said they can make extensions to help in both instances.
If you put your move on hold, the fixed rate period on your existing mortgage may come to an end.
This means there’s a risk you could end up on your lender’s standard variable rate, which could end up costing much more each month.
Mortgage lenders have said that they are working to find ways to give customers who have exchanged contacts a three month extension on their mortgage so that they will be able to stay on their existing deal if they need to move at a later date.
Call your mortgage lender to see if this is possible for you.
My home is already up for sale
If your home is on the market already there is not much that you can do while the country is in lockdown.
Physical viewings are banned and some agents are trying to offer virtual viewings instead, but setting these up may require an agent or photographer visiting your home again and that is to be avoided.
Sellers must decide whether to remove their home from the market and out it back on once the coronavirus chaos has passed, or to keep it on sale knowing that those stuck at home and browsing the property portals will see it.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer to this – and it comes down to personal choice. Your agent can give you some guidance, but they will probably be slightly biased towards suggesting you keep the home listed.
You can, however, rest safe in the knowledge that properties sitting on the market during lockdown won’t suffer from the perception that they can’t be sold. Everyone will know why they haven’t gone under offer – and all sellers are in the same boat.
If your home isn’t on the market yet
It goes without saying that it’s going to be a difficult time for anyone trying to sell their house at a time like this.
For one, you shouldn’t be allowing visitors into your home, and while you can speak to estate agents over the phone for advice, they won’t be able to start marketing your home in the usual manner.
And with the fate of house prices uncertain as the current crisis unfolds, trying to sell your house at the moment could be a very bad idea indeed.
What you can do however is use this time to prepare for a sale once the crisis passes, for example by finishing DIY jobs or getting your garden in order.
Buying agent Henry Pryor told This is Money: ‘There are significant legal, financial and practical risks in exchanging contracts at present and I would strongly urge anyone thinking of doing so to think again.
I expect that in fact prices will be 5-10 per cent lower by the time we have come through this
Henry Pryor, buying agent
‘Delaying may turn out to be the most sensible thing that they could do and whilst perhaps frustrating it’s very unlikely that what they want to buy will be more expensive by July.
‘I expect that in fact prices will be 5-10 per cent lower by the time we have come through this.’
We’ve exchanged but now what?
First-time buyer Susanna Wood, 29, exchanged on her new home at the start of this month, with her boyfriend.
Susanna Wood is due to move in less than three weeks but isn’t sure if this will still go ahead
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 of the property in Surrey and had a completion date set for 15 April.
But now, says Susanna, who works for the savings app Plum, the couple don’t know if they can move home – and they have already given notice on their rented flat in London.
She has been in touch with her solicitors and has been told that, so far, the move is ‘progressing as planned’.
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.’
Our buyer is a pilot and had to pull out
Tom Matthews and his family were due to exchange on a new home but have now been left in limbo after their buyer put the brakes on the sale.
He said: ‘Our buyer is no longer willing to commit to an exchange or completion date, although he does iterate his desire to purchase the property – he just won’t say when or when he will make a decision on that.
‘He is a pilot for an airline so has perhaps seen some of the worst of the virus from an economic standpoint.’
Tom Matthews was due to exchange on a new home but has now been left in limbo
Tom was still hoping to move with his wife Daniella, 30, and two-year-old son, but he said that no longer seems possible.
He said: ‘For now at least, we are in limbo. I want to buy and move but our buyer isn’t committing and there is no use my relisting the property as we can’t arrange any viewings on it for the foreseeable.’
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