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Nicola Laver

Editor, Solicitors Journal

House moves can resume if social distancing is observed

House moves can resume if social distancing is observed


Conveyancing can resume from today but new guidance must be followed, the government has announced 

Conveyancing can resume from today but new guidance must be followed, the government has announced. 

The pandemic-induced freeze on conveyancing in March has meant at least 450,000 buyers and renters have been unable to carry on with their moving plans, according to government figures. 

The Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick this morning announced plans to enable people to “move home safely” and to re-start the housing market in line with social distancing guidelines.

He said estate agents’ offices can open; in-person viewings are allowed; show homes can open; and removal companies and the “other essential parts of the sales and letting process are re-started with immediate effect”.

There may be uncertainty, however, as to what amounts to “essential” parts of the process; but given that the guidance says tradespeople such as fitters can operate in homes, provided they do so in line with health guidance, it seems to be open to wide interpretation. 

The guidance, applicable only to those moving between private residential homes, says the parties need to be “as flexible as possible”. 

It states: “This will include doing more of the process online, such as virtual initial viewings; vacating your current property whilst other people are shown around; and ensuring your property is thoroughly cleaned before someone else moves in.”

It goes on: “It may also become necessary to pause all home moves for a short period of time to manage the spread of the coronavirus… You should consider whether you need to make provisions in contracts to manage these risks.”

Mr Jenrick said: “[The government’s] clear plan will enable people to move home safely, covering each aspect of the sales and letting process from viewings to removals.

“Our step by step plan is based on the latest guidance to ensure the safety and protection of everyone involved.

“This critical industry can now safely move forward, and those waiting patiently to move can now do so.”

But he stressed the need to continue following guidance from Public Health England, which means that anyone advised to self-isolate should not yet move home.

Sarah Dwight, a conveyancing sole practitioner who sits on the Law Society’s conveyancing and land law committee, said it is pleasing to see that the housing market looks as if it can reopen.

She commented: “This should help estate agents to reopen their offices and have viewings subject to guidance on safety as necessary, and help the market to move forwards.

“It should also help those clients who are in chains and who have been waiting to move since 23 March to agree dates throughout the chain and move, but again, bearing in mind any guidance on safety.”

The news is a welcome boost for the legal profession which is expecting wide-spread closures of small firms because of the pandemic.

There are already casualties in the conveyancing sector, with Lincoln-based online conveyancing firm Fletcher Longstaff being one of the first small law firms going into administration.

The Conveyancing Association has called on the chancellor to extend the furlough scheme beyond October because of the risk of thousands of job losses in the legal sector.