Keep calm, protect health
By Sarah Dwight
Sarah Dwight offers advice on how to approach conveyancing issues during the pandemic
I thought that in my thirty years of practice, I had encountered everything in the conveyancing world.
Think back thirty years and you will know how different the world was without the internet, mobile phones or emails. Not only have we had the introduction of these means of communication, but most practitioners will have encountered many unexpected occurrences, such as divorce or death, in a chain. But none of us has ever lived through the times we are now.
Here are a few points to bear in mind: The government has advised that home buyers should, where possible, delay moving to a new house while the restricted movement measures are in place. There are logistical difficulties in that many removal companies are not working, as it can be hard to follow social distancing rules and public health advice when physically moving someone’s furniture and possessions.
If contracts have been exchanged and the parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay completion, people must follow advice on staying away from others to minimise the spread of the virus. Other advice includes ensuring that the house is cleaned as thoroughly as possible.
Anyone with covid-19 symptoms, self-isolating and or shielding from the virus should follow medical advice, which will mean not moving house for the time being.
The transaction will be governed by the provisions in the contract unless the parties agree otherwise. So this means that unless the non-defaulting party takes a ‘good faith’ view, that party can serve a notice to complete, giving the defaulting party ten working days in which to complete; and if they do not complete during that time then the deposit is forfeit and all wasted costs, such as storage, become payable by the party in default.
If you have exchanged contracts prior to the restricted movement period, then many lenders are extending mortgage offers for a three-month period. If the client’s circumstances change during this three-month period; or the terms of the house purchase change significantly and continuing with the mortgage would mean house buyers facing financial hardship, lenders have indicated that they will work with customers to help them manage their finances as a matter of urgency.
Few if any surveys are being carried out. It is always advisable to have a full survey done so this means that a purchase will grind to a halt as a surveyor cannot visit a property. Remember to advise the client on the limitations of desktop and drive by valuations.
Government guidance indicates that you should only move during the restricted movement period if your move is critical and it is safe to do so. That would cover an empty property but if the empty property is in a chain, then it may not be possible to complete without breaking the chain.
It is important to bear in mind Land Registry requirements as to the signing of documents. Please remember that documents cannot be witnessed unless there is physical presence. I have seen reports of people signing documents outside the solicitor’s office, perhaps visible through the office window. This may be sufficient to satisfy the legal requirements but practitioners should keep a detailed record of where each party was positioned and how the signing and witnessing was effected.
Electronic signatures can be used to sign contracts unless the contract is being executed as a deed. Please always remember that deeds – the transfer deed, mortgage deed, lease, and so on – need to have a wet ink signature. The way in which conveyancing is being done has changed and many conveyancers are now working remotely. But however you’re working, please always bear in mind the government guidance.
No matter how much our clients want us to get them moved into their new homes, prioritising the health of individuals and the public must be the priority.
Sarah Dwight is a sole practitioner and sits on the Law Society’s Conveyancing and Land Law Committee. She also leads the committee’s residential property working sub-group