On 13 May the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced plans to enable people to move home safely and to re-start the housing market in line with the Government’s updated social distancing advice.
The measures introduced include the opening of estate agents’ offices, permitting house viewings to take place, opening show homes and allowing the operation of removal companies and other essential elements of the sales and letting process.
The measures take effect immediately and include the following:
Selling and Buying homes
- Homes can be put on the market and estate agents are able to attend the property to take photos/videos of the property.
- The Government encourage on-line property searching and initial viewings wherever possible. Physical viewings should only be conducted where buyers are seriously considering making an offer on a property and by appointment only. “Open house” viewings are not permitted.
- Properties should be vacant whilst viewings are taking place. The number of people viewing a property should be restricted and appropriate social distancing measures taken.
- Surveyors can undertake surveys of properties by appointment only and following government guidance for professionals working in other people’s homes and appropriate social distancing measures taken.
- Contracts for the sale/purchase of property should have sufficient flexibility to allow the sale/purchase to be delayed in the event that an individual in one of the parties contracts coronavirus or has to self-isolate.
In practice, we find these clauses can be too subjective and difficult to agree with a preference for simultaneous exchange and completion being seen in the market.
- Removal firms are able to operate and should follow the latest government guidance on safer working and appropriate social distancing measures taken.
Developers and new build sales
- House builders can continue with sales but should ensure that their sales teams follow the government’s safer working guidance. Developers should inform consumers and their own staff about their procedures.
- Where possible, house builders should promote virtual viewings but where physical viewings do take place, including visits to show homes, these should be by appointment with one household visiting any single property at a time.
- For new reservations and contracts, developers should work with conveyancers to ensure contracts take account of the risks posed by coronavirus, including building in flexibility in case move dates need to change as a result of someone falling ill with coronavirus or needing to self-isolate.
- Conveyancers can open for business and accept new instructions but are encouraged to conduct their business remotely insofar as is possible. Conveyances are encouraged to advise their clients of the difficulties and risks of completing transactions during this period.
- Conveyancers should do what they can to promote flexibility making provisions for the risks presented by coronavirus, for example when advising clients 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 who is clinically vulnerable or shielding, or with symptoms of coronavirus or self-isolating to agree a new date to move.
New Build Home Warranty Assessments
- New Homes Warranty/Insurance inspectors are permitted to undertake assessments on new build properties provided they follow public health guidance on social distancing and guidance for working in other people’s homes..
- New build warranty providers can continue to provide a normal service to homebuilders and consumers, including site visits and inspections.
- Where home owners are making a claim against a new build warranty/insurance policy, they should speak with the warranty provider in the first instance. Where possible the warranty providers should investigate claims remotely using video or photo evidence. If this is not possible and an inspector needs to visit an occupied property, this should be done by appointment and measures put in place to ensure physical contact is minimised.
- The Government is permitting a greater level of flexibility for construction sites including agreeing changes to working hours with local authorities to allow staggered arrival times, for example.
- A new ‘Safe Working Charter’ has also been launched by the Government and the Home Builders Federation to enable construction sites to reopen in line with latest health and safety guidance which compliments detailed guidance available from the Construction Leadership Council on further reducing the risk of infection onsite.
- The Government has proposed that local councils and developers are permitted to publicise planning applications through social media instead of having to rely on posters and leaflets.
- The Government has signalled its support for smaller developers by allowing deferral of payments to local councils so ease pressures on cash flow but whilst ensuring communities still receive funding towards local infrastructure in the longer term.
Further guidance on these measures is awaited.
All of the proposals are underpinned by the need to maintain strict social distancing protocols and guidelines to create and maintain a safe working environment and no work should be carried out or contact made by or with a person who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild or with anyone who is self-isolating.
The days, weeks and months ahead will reveal how effective these measure are on reigniting the housing market but these measure represent positive initial steps providing a safe and secure environment to allow a housing recovery.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.