Now that Covid-19 lockdown restrictions have been eased to allow people to buy and sell properties, our advice to you and your clients is to prepare to proceed as quickly as possible. The window of opportunity may be short. An unfortunate second Covid-19 wave would, of course, lead to a further lockdown.
For this reason it is very important for all parties in the conveyancing industry to be ready to work as quickly as possible.
Here are some anticipated questions and answers designed to reassure and assist buyers and sellers and also highlight the importance of instructing the right firm of solicitors.
"I am worried about the risks involved in viewing a property/allowing access to my property"
Allowing and exercising access will be challenging. Without this, however, a transaction is, of course, unlikely to proceed. We are able to assist in providing specific terms, if required to facilitate this, in accordance with the Government’s guidelines.
"I have seen a property advertised which I like the look of - is there anything I can do about it now to get ahead of the game?"
We can carry out initial investigations (before the formal conveyancing process has commenced) and undertake important due diligence immediately. Once provided with the details of the property, we are able to check the title, and the lease if applicable, and provide immediate advice about the suitability of the property in legal terms. We are also able to submit the searches at this early stage.
"I'm selling. What can I do to ensure my solicitors have everything they need to send out a comprehensive pack of papers (the contract pack)?"
Assuming all AML due diligence has been dealt with, the Protocol Forms (Property Information, Leasehold Information and Fittings & Contents forms) should be returned without delay. If the property is leasehold, the management pack should be paid for and requested from the freeholder/managing agents either directly or through the solicitors. Because of staff shortages, furlough leave or working from home challenges, there may be a delay in receiving the management pack from the freeholder or managing agents. We can liaise with those parties to find alternative means of providing documents.
A seller could also consider submitting the searches in advance to save time. These are usually carried out by a buyer at their expense, but a seller should consider to weighing up the additional cost against the time saved to facilitate a more speedy sale. A seller could then try to pass the cost on to a buyer by negotiation.
"The sellers had accepted the buyer’s offer and the transaction had commenced, but was paused during the lockdown. How can we start the process again?"
Both sets of solicitors should be instructed to immediately resume. The sellers’ solicitors should be instructed to prepare and email the contract pack mentioned above.
The buyer should arrange, if it hasn’t been done previously, for a survey and/or mortgage valuation to be undertaken as quickly as possible and instruct their solicitors/conveyancers to submit the required searches (the Local Authority Search in particular,) as quickly as possible. There may be a delay in obtaining the results from the relevant bodies particularly if they are short staffed or have challenges as a consequence of members of staff working from home or on furlough leave. We can advise which Local Authorities are still closed or where there are likely to be significant delays and offer solutions to work around potential delays.
"Will it really be possible to complete a transaction in these circumstances?"
Yes, it is possible and we have already dealt with a number, in accordance with the government’s guidelines. It is true that some creative thinking is required in respect of some contractual obligations and provisions. As a consequence of the constraints and disruptions caused by the Covid-19 virus lockdown and social distancing measures we have been dealing with unconventional and complicated contracts for those matters where clients still wanted to proceed. Complexities have included drafting contractual provisions for access to a property between exchange of contracts and completion and also how to deal with completion delays caused as a consequence of the virus. It is even more important than ever for your clients to obtain expert legal advice during this time. It is not a simple 'process' – there are many pitfalls to be avoided and your clients will need additional support and understanding.
"Are solicitors even working at the moment?"
Russell-Cooke is open for business, in the office (in accordance with Government guidelines) and remotely, and our conveyancing team is ready, able and willing to proceed. We can work flexibly to get sales moving as quickly as possible. We can meet using video conferencing technologies such as Zoom, Facetime or Skype. We can even arrange face to face meetings in our Putney office, by appointment. It goes without saying that we are stringently following current regulations and guidance in reducing the risk of transmission of the Covid-19 virus to keep our clients and staff safe.
The important message is that if people want or need to move house or indeed locate a suitable investment, it can be done. There is currently a window of opportunity. We are well equipped to work to meet the client’s needs and as quickly as possible without compromising our level of service and expertise.