What are the new lockdown rules about buying, selling or renting a property?

New easing of restrictions came into play from 13 May

Helen Coffey@LenniCoffey
Friday 15 May 2020 10:51
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Boris Johnson's full address to the UK on the fight against coronavirus

In line with the easing of other lockdown restrictions such as exercise and sunbathing in parks, the UK government has now changed its coronavirus regulations to allow the housing market in England to reopen.

While people are now free to move home, the process is likely to be different to a normal move, according to government advice.

Those involved will need to adapt practices and procedures to ensure that the risk of spreading coronavirus is reduced “as far as possible”.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the changes must be carried out under social distancing and safety rules. “Our clear plan will enable people to move home safely, covering each aspect of the sales and letting process, from viewings to removals,” he said. “This critical industry can now safely move forward, and those waiting patiently to move can now do so.”

However, the new rules do not apply to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, where the housing market remains closed. Here’s everything you need to know.

Can I put my house on the market?

Yes. You can put your house on the market and start to look for properties you want to move into.

Estate agents are able to visit in order to take photos and videos of the property. However, if any member of your household is showing Covid-19 symptoms or is self-isolating, agents should not physically visit the property.

You can also start to bring together the documentation necessary to sell your property.

Agents may ask home occupiers to conduct virtual viewings to help reduce the number of properties people need to visit.

If people are being physically shown around your current home, you should open all internal doors and ensure surfaces, such as door handles, are cleaned after each viewing with standard household cleaning products. You should also allow access to handwashing facilities and ideally separate towels or paper towels for viewers, to be washed or disposed of afterwards.

The government recommends vacating the property while viewings are taking place in order to minimise contact with those not in your household.

Can I go to a house viewing?

Yes. Initial viewings should be done virtually wherever possible and people are encouraged to do the majority of their property searching online – for example, only physically viewing properties they are seriously interested in.

All physical viewings should be by appointment only and limited to members of the same household, and open house viewings should not take place.

When physically viewing properties, you’re advised to avoid touching surfaces, wash your hands regularly, and bring your own hand sanitiser. The number of people on a viewing should be minimised to those from your household that absolutely have to be there. If you need to be accompanied by small children, you should try to keep them from touching surfaces and ensure they wash their hands regularly.

However, if any member of either the household being viewed, or the household undertaking a viewing, is showing symptoms of coronavirus or is self-isolating, then a physical viewing should be delayed.

Can I buy, sell or rent a property?

You are free to make or accept an offer or reserve a property as normal.

There is a greater risk that parties may need to delay their move because someone is showing symptoms of coronavirus or self-isolating. Where needed your legal adviser should advise you and help make sure that any contracts or agreements are as flexible as possible to accommodate this risk.

Once you have agreed to move home by exchanging contracts or signing a tenancy agreement, you have entered into a legal agreement to move. The government advises: “We encourage all parties to be as flexible as possible over this period and be prepared to delay moves if needed, for example if someone becomes ill with coronavirus during the moving process or has to self-isolate. You should not expect to move into any home where people are ill or self-isolating.”

Can I move house?

Yes. When moving between properties, you and those in your household should try to do as much of the packing yourself as you can. Where this is not possible, you should speak to removal firms in advance.

What about if I am shielding?

Those who are shielding or otherwise clinically vulnerable should ensure they are aware of the medical advice, including on staying at home and avoiding unnecessary contacts over this period.

All parties involved in home buying and selling should prioritise agreeing amicable arrangements to change move dates for individuals in this group, or where someone in a chain is in this group.

Clinically vulnerable and shielded individuals may wish to seek medical advice before deciding whether to commit to or go ahead with a move. Some moves are likely to be lower risk – for instance if the home is empty, all travel can take place in their own transport and they can avoid contact with others.

What about if I have coronavirus?

Moving home is not appropriate whilst you pose a direct risk of transmitting coronavirus. People who have coronavirus or are self-isolating with their family member should not leave their home to either move home, or undertake property viewings.

Will estate agents be opening?

Estate agents can open for business but should consider how and when to reopen their premises given government guidance on safer working. Estate agents should inform customers and their own staff about their procedures, so that they are safe throughout the sales process.

They can accompany clients on a viewing but must follow social distancing rules wherever possible.

Where social distancing is not possible and the visit is within an enclosed space, they should consider wearing a face covering in line with government guidance.

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Can I get a survey done?

Your surveyor can undertake surveys of the property you wish to purchase.

Inspections should take place by appointment only, with one person visiting the property at any time. Surveyors should follow government guidance for professionals working in other people’s homes and guidance on social distancing.

Surveyors should not enter a property where a member of the household is showing symptoms of coronavirus or self-isolating.

Can I book a removals firm to move house?

Removal firms are able to operate, although they may need to adjust usual procedures in order to ensure moves happen as safely as possible, such as practising social distancing and regularly washing hands.

Where possible, you’re advised to clean your belongings with standard domestic cleaning products before they are handled by others, including removal firms.

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