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Possible impacts of Coronavirus on property transactions

If you are in the middle of trying to buy, sell or rent a property, the coronavirus outbreak is causing particular uncertainty at all stages in the process. We want to reassure you that our property team will continue to operate as normally as possible to keep all property transactions on course during this difficult and uncertain time.

Stephen Myers, managing director of Myers and Co Solicitors in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent says that there are a number of things to consider, depending on where you are with your transaction.

Property viewings

If you are still in the early stages of buying or selling, take sensible precautions. Before showing prospective buyers or renters around a property, or before going on a viewing:

  • ask if anyone is unwell or is in isolation when you confirm the appointment, and on arrival;
  • do not shake hands and keep a suitable distance during the viewing; and
  • ensure everyone washes their hands thoroughly on arrival and before leaving the property.

Before exchange of contracts

Circumstances may mean that you might prefer to delay exchange of contracts until the position is clearer, as once you have exchanged you will be legally bound to complete within a certain time frame.

According to guidance from the Law Society ‘If completion does not take place after contracts have been exchanged due to Coronavirus, the parties not completing will be in default. The contract provisions relating to default will apply unless the non-defaulting party takes a ‘good faith’ view. If the transaction forms part of a chain of transactions, it may not be possible to take such a view without incurring a penalty.’

There may be many issues which could cause a delay in exchanging contracts including:

  • delays in obtaining search results if staff are not available to carry out the searches; and
  • issues in mortgage lending surveys or physical valuations requiring site visits.

Between exchange and completion

There is a difference between transactions where Coronavirus is already affecting a party to the transaction, and cases where it is a possibility. If you are due to complete the purchase of your property in the next few weeks, you need to let us know if:

  • someone in your family becomes ill if you or any family member is in isolation or is feeling unwell with symptoms that may be linked to Coronavirus, please call us or email immediately to let us know.
  • if anyone else connected with the transaction becomes ill if you think or hear that anyone else connected with this transaction is affected, then again please tell us as soon as possible.

Other issues which could arise include:

  • difficulties if a seller or tenant is unable to vacate the property because they are in isolation;
  • reluctance on the part of removal company employees to enter a property;
  • failure or disruption to parts of the banking system (such as CHAPS); or
  • difficulties in obtaining witnesses when executing documents.

‘Good faith’ measures

Where there are no real concerns about infection and if both buyer and seller are happy to continue, the transaction may still be able to go ahead. We will try and help you overcome any obstacles as far as possible. For example, there may be some good faith measures that can be put in place if all sides agree such as:

  • agreeing simultaneous exchange and completion to avoid breach of contract or uncertainty issues
  • waiving default penalties in the contract to allow for a delay in completion;
  • delaying the vacation of the property if someone is unwell or in isolation; and
  • getting the property professionally deep-cleaned.

Our approach

As ever, our priority is to focus on your best interests, and we will work closely with the solicitors on the other side to keep any transactions on track as much as possible. I would like to reassure our clients and contacts that it’s very much business as usual here at Myers and Co. Our staff have been briefed and we have put the appropriate measures in place to assist with mitigating any risks and are of course following the Government guidelines. Our contingency plans are robust to ensure that we can continue to deliver our services to you if we are advised to self-isolate or to home work, and our technology and security systems are in place to support this.

We are more than happy to continue with face to face client meetings at this stage, but I do want to highlight to you that we also have alternative options for holding meetings and discussions via phone, or email.

The precautions we have taken include the following:

  • Information notices are posted throughout the office
  • Gel sanitisers are available in all rooms
  • “High touch” areas of public rooms are cleaned daily, in addition to routine cleaning
  • ​We have instituted a protocol for meetings in the office, including a minimum distance of 1m
  • All crockery, cutlery and cups will be cleaned daily through the dishwasher
  • Client meetings both in the office and externally will be kept to a minimum, and replaced using telephone conferencing if possible
  • We have reviewed our procedures so that we will not require sight of original documents. We will accept scanned copies or good quality photos, provided they contain sufficient information to allow us to use electronic verification. Alternatively, AML can be completed using the Thirdfort smartphone app
  • Please refrain from visiting our offices, or meeting face-to-face with our staff, if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms or have come into direct contact with a person who has tested positive with Coronavirus in the last 14 day
  • We have asked staff who show any Coronavirus symptoms to stay away from the office
  • We will advise all Clients of the precautions we are taking, both in phone calls and on our website

We will continue to review this response in the light of public health information, but if you would like to know more please contact us.

Stephen Myers, Managing Director

17 March 2020