The effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on conveyancing
It does not need to be said that COVID-19 is having a huge impact on everyone on the planet. Specialist property solicitors Ashworths report that a number of clients have asked advice on the effects of the virus on conveyancing transactions. The Government’s advice on home moves during the outbreak can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/government-advice-on-home-moving-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak
Where contracts have already been exchanged
The situation where contracts have already been exchanged is far from ideal, but with a bit of common sense nearly all deals can be ‘rescued’ and will go ahead in one way, shape or form.
The standard form of contract for a conveyancing contract does not contain a “force majeure” clause which allows the parties to walk away if something like COVID-19 happens. If you exchanged contracts some time ago and are coming up to a fixed completion date, it is time to think about what you need to do to vary the terms of the contract in a way that works for everyone.
The Government’s advice has not been entirely clear, but moving house is not actually outlawed during the current outbreak. It is discouraged, but the Government seem to accept that there are some circumstances where it cannot be avoided and where that is the case the usual “social distancing” rules should be implemented.
This is, however, to a large degree rendered academic by the fact that the Association of British Removers has now issued an instruction to its members to cease removals.
On the basis that you are unlikely to obtain a removal company for the near future, you should seriously start thinking about agreeing new terms with your buyer or seller and the other parties in the chain.
Where contracts have not been exchanged
Notwithstanding the current concerns, there is no reason for property transactions to “stand still”. Agreeing a fixed completion date in the next couple of weeks may not be a brilliant idea, but a number of our clients have already exchanged contracts with a provision that enables the completion date to be moved in certain circumstances.
These contracts are not entirely straightforward since a degree of foresight is required around what the effects of the virus may be. Some examples we have seen, however, are completion is delayed until [x] weeks after quarantine ends, or on the first date that all parties in the chain are able to book removals.
No such clause is ever going to be perfect, but with a bit of “give and take” there is no reason that contracts cannot be entered into.
We would be happy to advise new and existing clients at this unusual time.