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COVID-19: Housing market reopens in England

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By Jonathan Potter

The relaxation of the lockdown rules announced by the government last week has opened up the residential property market again. Whilst a positive step forward, businesses and home-movers will need to follow stringent new COVID-19 social distancing conditions.

Since the initial lockdown in March, our experience at TWM is that a number of transactions have still been able to proceed to completion, in accordance with the guidance set down. However, the majority of matters were put on hold by at least one of the parties, due to various reasons from general uncertainty, physical inability to move or employ a removal firm and, of course, complying with the “stay at home” message.

How TWM can help

Only time will tell how willing sellers will be to invite potential buyers into their properties in the short to medium term. We, however, remain well placed to guide and progress our existing property transactions to completion, now that removal firms are authorised to provide services again.

Estate agents will have to put in place procedures to comply with the guidance on viewing properties. The main thrust of viewing is that all parties must wash their hands on entering the property, doors should be left open to avoid using handles and the property should be cleaned before and after each viewing. Above all, the usual social distancing measures must be adhered to.

In order to comply with the new guidance:

Conveyancers should aim to conduct as much of their business remotely as possible. Where possible, we shall verify ID electronically and send documents to you to execute and return to our offices. Please note that when signing documents in front of a witness, you must all adhere to the 2 metre distance rule and should use your own pen and wear gloves. Your witness should also use their own pen, wear gloves and take their pen and gloves back with them.

Where client meetings need to take place, measures should be put in place to ensure appropriate social distancing and hygiene measures. We have procedures in place at all our offices.

Conveyancers should do what they can to promote flexibility making provisions for the risks presented by coronavirus, for example when advising their clients who are ready to move not to exchange contracts on an occupied property unless they have made explicit provision for the risks presented by the virus. We shall continue to review the situation before you exchange contracts and advise as to additional provisions that you may consider putting in the contract to cover the risk of a second spike and the lockdown rules being tightened again.

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. Please let us know at the earliest opportunity if you (or any other household member) are likely to fall into this category.

The new guidance can be found here.

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