Buying and selling a house during Covid-19

If you’re thinking about buying and selling a house during Covid-19, the first thing to know is that it is still completely possible. In many ways, it’s not all that different from before Covid-19. There are, however, a few things you may want to consider.

Our Head of Residential Conveyancing, Miranda Mortlock, walks through some of the changes and practical things that can be done to ensure a smooth sale or purchase.

Try to do as much as possible remotely

Social distancing is likely to be with us all for some time yet. Rather than meeting with your solicitor and estate agent in person, wherever possible, communicate by email, telephone, or video call.

Just like estate agents in Bury St Edmunds, as residential conveyancers, we’re set up with the right technology to enable us to keep your house move going.

If there are any times where a face-to-face meeting is needed, we have put the necessary measures in place to facilitate this at our office.

We can also provide you with instructions on how to have documents witnessed whilst following the government’s advice on social distancing.

Proof of identity checks

As with all solicitors, we must verify your identity for the Land Registry as well as mortgage lenders. This means, we will need to be in receipt of your original documentation verifying your ID (usually a passport and a personally addressed utility/bank statement within the last three months)

Some documents can be verified electronically but most used during the residential conveyancing process require us to be in receipt of the original document. Most people are choosing to send these securely in the post to us at our Bury St Edmunds office, where we promise to safely return them to you as soon as possible.

Of course, we realise this may not be the best option for everyone, especially if they are shielding. We can make a house visit where a member of our team verifies personal ID documents through a window. This is usually done at the same time as we witness a client’s signature so that they do not have to make a trip to the office.

We can also verify documents via video conferencing (provided we can see the document clearly on screen). Clients can also safely pass their ID to us within our carpark, where we verify their photo, copy the document, and return it to them there and then. For such appointments, all we ask is that you phone ahead before making your journey.

Witnessing signatures during lockdown

During the sale or purchase of a house, several documents will require witnessing by a third party. This must still take place in person and your chosen witness must see you sign the document, whether that’s through a window or at the door whilst standing 2 metres apart. To limit the risk of infection, it’s a good idea to ask your witness to bring their own pen.

Property searches and surveys

Property searches are a vital part in any house purchase or sale.

Thankfully, the supply chain for searches has undergone significant digital transformation in the last 10 years. This means our residential conveyancing team can carry out property searches online in much the same way as they usually would.

The only thing to be aware of is that there might be a slight delay from the Local Authority and other third parties who are also adapting to the new way of doing business.

Our experience so far though, is that the Local Authority is doing everything it can to help the process.

Surveyors and valuers also tend to have their own measures that they’ve put in place to make sure that they do not hold up the process.

Can people still come and view my house?

The government has announced that estate agents and show homes can reopen their doors and offer viewings.

Be prepared to be asked questions about your coronavirus status since estate agents must ask you whether you or anyone in your household has symptoms or is self-isolating.

Estate agents are still being advised to offer virtual house viewings. They should only conduct in-person viewings where the buyer is strongly considering making an offer. If you’re going along to view a property, you might want to write a list of some of the things you know you want to examine or query whilst there.

You’ll also need to book your viewing and will be accompanied by the estate agent selling the property. Therefore, it’s worth asking the estate agent what the expected hygiene processes are so that you can know what to expect.

From our clients who have already viewed houses in this way, they’ve found the process to be well managed.

What happens if I am shielding?

Unfortunately, we cannot advise you on whether you should or shouldn’t go ahead with a house move based on medical grounds. You should seek medical advice on whether it is safe for you to do so.

If you’re already quite far along in your move though and you still want to go ahead, there may be some practical measures that people within your chain can take to limit the risk to you. The government is asking that everyone is amicable about such arrangements and so it is best to have a conversation with your estate agent and solicitor.

Can I ask others about their Covid-19 status?

All residential property professionals should welcome questions about their Covid-19 status – after all, it means everyone remains alert.

Don’t be afraid to ask any professionals about their COVID-19 status – especially if it makes you feel more comfortable when welcoming someone into your home. Although it is worth keeping in mind that the estate agent should have already asked this question of a viewer.

Mostly, you can expect to see a maximum of one estate agent and two adults from the same household rather than an entire family.

You can also request that viewings are kept as short as possible, whilst still allowing the viewer the opportunity to explore their potential new home.

Similarly, when you’re going to view a property, it’s best to avoid touching surfaces and wash your hands frequently. You may also wish to bring hand sanitiser although many estate agents offer this (just check beforehand). Again, try and keep to two adults from the same household, plus the agent. Whilst the kids will be keen to see their future bedrooms, it’s best not to take them in with you.

As far as surveyors or valuers go, most will encourage you to answer as many questions as possible before they visit your home. This can usually be done online.

Am I likely to experience any significant delays?

Since things started moving, they really are in full swing. As of yet, we’ve not seen any big differences in terms of timeframes.

Our advice would be for you to complete your paperwork and actions as soon as possible.

Where we’d expect there to be a slight delay is with surveys and mortgage lender valuations as backlogs of requests are worked through. You can always check with your lender as to how they fair by way of requests.

Another thing to be mindful of is that you may wish to exchange contracts and complete on the same day or the day before, given the uncertainty around Covid-19. As you near exchange, we’ll discuss your options depending on what the current situation is.

We hope this has helped answer some of those niggling questions around buying and selling homes in the current climate.

If you need a highly-experienced residential conveyancing solicitor at a competitive price, simply call us on 01284 701131 - and if you have any burning questions, you can also use our chat feature (bottom right).