Many of us are struggling following the introduction of another lockdown, but those who are looking to buy or sell a property are likely to feel especially strained.
The government’s third national lockdown means that all non-essential shops must remain closed, shielders must stay at home, and schools will be closed until at least mid-February.
Naturally, many buyers and sellers, and also those who were planning to move into a new rental property in early 2021, feel stuck in limbo and may be worried about when and if they’ll be able to proceed with their plans.
Here, we explain everything you need to know about what social distancing measures mean for your move.
- I’m buying a property and selling my home. Can I still go ahead?
- What if I’ve exchanged contracts and the moving date was agreed?
- The property I’m buying is vacant. Does that change things?
- Will I be able to book a removal company?
- Can I still put my property up for sale?
- Will I still be able to get a mortgage?
- I’m a tenant and need to move. Where do I stand?
- I’m struggling to pay rent and afraid I’ll be evicted. Do I have any rights?
- I’m a landlord and my tenants can’t pay rent. Is there any help?
I’m buying a property and selling my home but contracts have yet to be exchanged. Can I still go ahead?
Government advice is clear about buying and selling property: you are free to move home, but you could face delays, as agents, surveyors, conveyancers and lenders are all having to adapt to the new restrictions and reduce the risk from coronavirus.
You may need to be flexible and prepared to push your moving date back if any of the parties involved in your property sale and purchase are facing delays because of local restrictions. You can read the government’s advice here.
What if I’ve already exchanged contracts and a moving date was agreed prior to the latest lockdown restrictions?
If contracts have already been exchanged, you should be able to proceed with your move. If any of the parties involved has to self-isolate or has contracted coronavirus, or are facing delays because their conveyancer or removals company is having to adjust to the new restrictions, you could have to wait a bit longer, so keep checking in to see where you stand. Mortgage lenders may be willing to extend their mortgage offers, so that homeowners won’t have to reapply for a mortgage because they haven’t moved within the original offer period.
If you think your move may have to be delayed, get in touch with your lender and see how long they might be prepared to extend your mortgage offer for. You’ll also need to contact your solicitor and ask them to try and arrange a new completion date that everyone is in agreement with.
With the property market bustling, and the stamp duty holiday coming to an end, you may find that removals firms and other providers are booking up quickly so it’s worth trying to arrange them as soon as possible. It’s also worth asking upfront what happens if the completion date needs to move through no fault of your own – to ensure you know where you stand and avoid footing any cancellation fees.
Will I be able to book a removal company?
The British Association of Removers, trade body for the removal industry, is following government guidance that moves can still go ahead, even if you’re in a very high risk area. It has produced a checklist on how to reduce moving day stress during the pandemic, which you can find here. Make sure you check with your removal company whether there are any special measures they require you to follow, for example, you’ll usually be required to wear a mask throughout the move and to arrange a deep clean of your property before the move takes place.
If you don’t have a large number of items to move, you may be able to hire yourself a van and do the heavy lifting yourself. Try to make any arrangements as early as possible as these vehicles often book up quickly.
Can I still put my property up for sale?
Yes, you can, even if you’re in a high risk area, and property agents are allowed to carry out a market appraisal and take internal photographs that are required for marketing purposes. You can also arrange for an Energy Performance Certificate inspection to take place if you need one, and prospective buyers will be able to come and look round your home if it is safe to do so and social distancing measures can be adhered to.
Potential buyers may alternatively be able to do ‘virtual viewings’ if they are uncomfortable about visiting properties in person.
If you feel uncomfortable about listing your property at the moment, then you might still want to use this time to make a few home improvements so that your property looks as good as it possibly can for when you’re ready to market it. It’s also a good idea to start gathering together any information you might need for the sale to proceed, such as the title deeds for your property and any planning permission approvals and building control certificates if you’ve had building work done.
Will I still be able to get a mortgage?
Yes, although there’s no escaping the fact that the number of mortgages available has reduced since the start of the pandemic. Some lenders have temporarily withdrawn their mortgage offers for those with only a 5% or 10% deposit to put down, so your chances of being accepted for a mortgage will be greater if you have a bigger deposit, or a substantial amount of equity if you’re remortgaging. As options remain relatively limited compared to ‘normal times’, if you need to get a mortgage, it may be a good idea to seek advice from a fee-free mortgage broker, such as Fluent Mortgages or London & Country Mortgages. They’ll be able to tell you which mortgage options you’ll have access to based on your individual circumstances.
I am a tenant and need to move. Where do I stand?
You can move home if you’re a tenant and will need to give your landlord notice of your plans.
When looking for your next home, the government advises both renters and buyers to conduct their initial searches online where possible. Once you’ve signed your new tenancy agreement, you’re legally obliged to rent the property. You may need to be flexible though – for example, if the existing tenants have to self-isolate or they’ve contracted coronavirus, your moving date may need to be delayed.
If you don’t want to move from your rental property during the pandemic, but your landlord has served you with notice, the government has asked landlords to offer support to tenants so that they are able to remain in their homes wherever possible. If you feel that your landlord is being unreasonable, you’re within your rights to report them to your local authority. Shelter has plenty of useful information and housing advice for those whose housing situation has been impacted by coronavirus.
I am struggling to pay rent and I’m afraid that I will be evicted. Do I have any rights?
You’re unlikely to lose your home immediately even if your landlord is threatening you with eviction.
Most tenants are entitled to six months’ notice from their landlords, but this reduces to four weeks if you have rent arrears of more than six months.
Bailiffs were not allowed to enforce possession orders between 11 December and 11 January but the government announced on the 8th January 2021 that this eviction ban would be extended for six weeks until 21 February 2021. Scotland announced a similar extension on Thursday. Its ban on eviction orders was due to finish on January 22 but will now finish at the end of March.
If you’ve lost income because of the outbreak and are struggling to make ends meet and pay your rent, ask your landlord to consider an arrangement whereby you reduce or stop your payments temporarily. They may be able to arrange a mortgage payment holiday until you are able to resume your rent payments. If you need help or advice, housing charity Shelter has lots of useful information here.
I'm a landlord and my tenants can't pay their rent. Is there help available?
If you are a landlord and are worried about not being able to make your own mortgage payments because your tenants can’t pay their rent, you have until March 31 2021 to apply for a three-month buy to let mortgage holiday to help bridge the funding gap.
This means that when you start paying your mortgage again, the interest not paid over the three months will be added onto your future payments, meaning slightly higher monthly costs.
If you need this type of support, you must notify your mortgage lender before you take any payment holiday, typically via an online application form. If you simply fail to make your payments, you will be considered to have defaulted and this will have a negative impact on your credit rating and future borrowing options. Find out more about how mortgage payment holidays work in our article Everything you need to know about taking a mortgage payment holiday.
Are you in the process of moving or has coronavirus made you re-think your moving plans altogether? We’d be interested in hearing from you. You can join the conversation on the Rest Less Community forum or leave a comment below.