Moving home – what are the current guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues the UK has been through many changes since the initial lockdown was imposed at the end of March. This may leave you wondering what the current rules are on buying/selling a property, including visiting estate agents, house viewings and instructing tradespeople to quote on prospective work. Here, we have pulled together some key highlights of the latest guidelines outlined by the government to clear up any confusion.

Getting ready to buy and/or sell your property:

Those looking to sell a property can rest assured that putting your house on the market is still a fairly simple process. Your chosen estate agent can still visit the property to take photos/videos. However, if you or anyone else in your household are showing signs of COVID-19 or are self-isolating then estate agents and prospective buyers should not visit the property.

If you’re looking to buy it’s best to narrow down your search by using online property viewing platforms and only view a property in person if it’s a serious contender.

For new build homes, you should still contact the developer to arrange to view the showhome or a particular plot that you may be interested in.

Property viewings:

  • The government currently encourages buyers to do their initial property searches online wherever possible. Initial viewings should also be done virtually, and in-person viewings should only take place when buyers are seriously considering a property
  • In conjunction with this, your estate agent may ask you, the vendor, to conduct virtual viewings. This will help reduce the number of properties people need to visit before finding their future home
  • All viewings will be by made by appointment only with no open house viewings to be offered
  • When viewing a property you are advised to wear a suitable face covering as described in government guidance unless you are exempt from this requirement. This should be confirmed with the agent before arrival
  • As the vendor, you should open all the internal doors before the viewing and allow access to handwashing facilities and ideally separate towels/paper towels
  • The government recommend that you vacate your property whilst viewings are taking place to minimise unnecessary contact
  • For prospective buyers, when viewing a property, everyone should wash their hands and avoid touching surfaces where possible
  • Once the viewing has taken place, the vendor should ensure high touch point areas, such as door handles, are cleaned with standard household cleaning products and towels disposed of safely or washed as appropriate

Making an offer:

Making an offer and accepting said offer is business as usual in the property market. However, what both parties should be aware of is that a transaction could be temporarily affected if someone shows symptoms of COVID-19 or is self-isolating. Your conveyancer or property solicitor will be able to manage this to ensure that contracts are flexible to accommodate any delays that the virus may impose.

If you’re buying a property and are looking to view the property again once the sale has been agreed where possible a virtual viewing is preferred. Where this isn’t possible and you need to view the property in person both you and the seller must ensure you follow social distancing guidelines to mitigate social contact and ensure strict hygiene measures are followed.

You may also need to instruct tradespeople to visit the property to quote for future work to be carried out on the property. Where possible this should be limited to one person visiting the property at a time. The occupier should maintain social distancing, wash their hands regularly and minimise contact as far as possible, for example by staying in another room

As stated before, no-one should enter the property if the vendor or any of its occupants are showing signs of COVID-19 or self-isolating.

Property searches & surveys:

Your conveyancer will continue with your initial search pack as they would have pre-COVID times as much of this information can be obtained online. When it comes to local authority searches this typically can take longer as there’s not a consistent approach across the country as to how this information is managed and shared with conveyancers.

Property valuations and all types of surveys can also continue as normal however the usual social distancing guidelines should be adhered to and must take place by appointment only. Again it’s preferable to limit these appointments to one person while surveyors should follow government guidance for professionals working in other people’s homes and guidance on social distancing.

As the vendor, you should ensure the surveyor has access to all the parts of the property they need to inspect and minimise contact with the surveyor, for example by staying in another room.

Exchange of contracts:

While exchange of contracts is a legally binding agreement and could be costly to either party if they back out of the sale from this point onwards, during these unprecedented times both sides should understand that a move could be delayed in the event someone in the transaction becomes ill with COVID-19 or has to self-isolate.

Since the market reopened in May conveyancers and property solicitors have adapted contracts to allow the flexibility for a purchase to be delayed if this does indeed happen.

Moving home:

Moving home, throughout the process can be particularly stressful yet it’s worth preparing as best you can for the day you move, as with the current guidelines there are just a few extra things to consider.

Employing a removal firm to help you move home is still A-OK, however, their practices may be slightly different to ensure house moves take place safely and securely. On the other hand, if you choose to move without the help of a removal company another household can help you move as long as you adhere to social distancing guidelines and hygiene measures are in place.

It is important that you carry out as much of the packing as possible and where possible you clean your belongings with standard domestic cleaning products before they are handled by others, including removal companies.

Again, if using a removal firm it’s advisable that while they’re in your home you open all internal doors and minimise contact, maintaining a distance of at least two meters where possible.

You are also advised not to provide refreshments but instead ensure removers have access to handwashing facilities and separate towels or paper towels that can be washed or disposed of afterwards.

Moving home has certainly adapted a bit since the coronavirus pandemic hit. Yet, by understanding the latest developments and guidelines imposed by the UK government there’s no reason why buyers and sellers should be deterred from making this step. Especially with the current stamp duty holiday to take advantage of before March 31st 2021.

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