Coronavirus, putting your house on the market

Estimates suggest 375,000 property transactions have stalled because of the coronavirus crisis. Recent easing of restrictions means these sales can now progress. What if you were thinking of moving, but had not yet put your house on the market?

Some agents are predicting a buoyant market as we come out of lockdown, on the basis that you could benefit from any pent-up demand. It is unlikely that the property market will return to normal straight away so there may be some challenges ahead.

We look at the current situation and now offer some advice.

What the latest relaxation of restrictions means

During lockdown, emergency regulations prevented people from leaving their homes except for a limited number of reasons. However, recent changes have extended these exceptions so people can move home.

You may now visit an estate agent and would-be buyers can visit your property. Professionals can visit your home to undertake any activities required for its sale, so this could cover valuers, videographers and tradesmen. It is important to follow the latest government guidance on social distancing, and to reduce the risk of spreading infection.

Estate agents, surveyors and conveyancers are open for business, although they may have changed their practices. For example, estate agents may encourage initial viewings to be virtual via a video tour. Your solicitor will still be there to give you advice when you need it, but you may need to speak to her by phone or video call rather than in person.

Some of the practicalities of selling your home now

Government guidelines recommend limiting the number of people viewing your property. Good agents should screen enquiries effectively and arrange virtual viewings first, so that only serious buyers should need to visit your home in person. The guidelines also include lots of information about how to keep yourself safe. For example, you should try to leave your home during any viewings and make sure you clean surfaces afterwards.

The steps necessary to sell your home may take longer than before, due to the restrictions, new working practices and people having to isolate. For example, buyers may experience delays with mortgage applications and surveys, or you may struggle to find dependable tradesmen or a removal company that are operating and available. You will still need an Energy Performance Certificate before marketing your home, and this may take longer than usual to arrange. So, where possible, plan ahead.

Getting your property ready for sale

To reduce potential delay, concentrate on getting your home ready for sale. As well as carrying out any outstanding maintenance jobs, address any legal issues, such as gaps in your documentary title, planning breaches or restrictions in your title deeds which have not been complied with.

Fortunately, most issues can be resolved relatively easily. For example, if you do not have documentary title to an area of land in your garden, your solicitor may apply to the Land Registry for a possessory title or advise you on an appropriate insurance policy. This should allay most people’s concerns.

Any unexpected delays could unnerve your buyer. It makes sense therefore to remove any obstacles to a smooth transaction before they become a problem. This is especially so in unsettled times like the present.

Discuss your plans with your solicitor, ideally before putting your home on the market. She can then help you head off issues, which, unaddressed, could derail a future sale. She can also review your title to make sure there are no potential issues you are unaware of.

Planning for the unexpected

You may be nervous about moving home in the current environment, and this is natural. It is important to remember many parts of the house selling process have not changed and others have adapted well to new circumstances. For example, your solicitor can now make the required checks of your identity online rather than in person, and parties can sign the sale contract digitally.

A willingness to be flexible also helps. Conventionally, a sale contract will provide for completion to take place on a set date. If you do not complete then, you may have to pay your buyer compensation. Worse, if the delay continues, he may decide not to complete his purchase at all. In normal circumstances, most sales go through on the contractual completion date, so this is rarely an issue.

But what happens if you have to self-isolate or the Government reintroduces stricter controls so you cannot move out on completion day?

To limit this risk, your solicitor may suggest exchanging contracts and completing your sale on the same day. Not knowing the contractual completion date well in advance may make it harder to plan your move but gives you certainty and control over when this will be. In some circumstances, your solicitor may suggest a change to the contract to allow for the variation of the completion date.

How your solicitor can help you

Having the right professionals on board can help you navigate your way successfully through these challenging times. Now more than ever, it is important to choose a solicitor who is experienced in residential conveyancing, someone who can adapt confidently and quickly to a rapidly changing environment.

A good solicitor will have embraced digital solutions, while ensuring they are secure and do not compromise your safety. Just as importantly, she will give your sale her close personal attention. This will help keep your transaction on track even if circumstances change.

For further information about selling your home, contact any of our offices.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

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