Q&As for sellers during Coronavirus

publication date: Apr 2, 2020
author/source: Kate Faulkner, Property Expert and Author of Which? Property Books

Q&As for sellers during Coronavirus


The Government has put out new guidelines for everyone to follow.

When it comes to selling a home, they are stating:-

Home buyers and renters should, where possible, delay moving to a new house while measures are in place to fight Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Our advice is that if you have already exchanged contracts and the property is currently occupied then all parties should work together to agree a delay or another way to resolve this matter.

To add to this they have stated you can ‘move house where reasonably necessary’. My understanding is this means if you have a contractual obligation and/or the property is empty then a move can still take place during lockdown.

However, please be aware that you may struggle to secure a removal company. Many have shut down on the guidance of their professional body BAR as they cannot easily and safely operate within a 2m distance, although they are being asked to help with essential moves.

These Q&As are in line with the clear government guidance:-

  • Only go outside for food, exercise, health reasons or essential work
  • Stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people

If you have a question for your individual circumstance, please contact us or email us with your question.

Please note - this is the official Government guidance for sellers 

Top 10 Q&As

I have exchanged contracts, why can’t I complete? 
Normally if you have exchanged contracts, it guarantees you will complete the sale. However, the government guidance is to delay your move for now. Legal companies have been advised of how to do this so it’s done consistently.

However it is still possible to complete, IF you can move your own belongings within the government guidelines and keys can be transferred remotely or respecting the 2m distancing guidelines or don’t need to move into the property straightaway eg it’s for investment or a second home.

Please note: if you are moving to a new home or one that is empty, ideally wait 72 hours after anyone has been in it. Keys need to be disinfected before they are passed over.

What does a ‘delay’ actually mean? 
Basically the contract can be ‘varied’. This will allow your existing contracts to still be valid, but with a flexible date to complete, however your agent and legal company should initially still check your buyer can complete (see: Will my mortgage still be valid?). If using a moving company, do check availability immediately post the stay at home measures as many will be inundated with home movers in this position. Bear in mind homes still cannot be completed on Saturdays and Sundays.

Will my mortgage still be valid?
It would be worth asking your legal company or contacting the mortgage lender/your broker yourself to ask how they are going to deal with your mortgage. In general, mortgage lenders have agreed to extend mortgages for three months. However if your job and earning status has changed, you will have to discuss if you can still go ahead, for example, if you have been furloughed or have lost your job or income has fallen due to the stay at home measures.

For information on how to secure income during the stay at home measures, visit the Government guidance to employers and businesses.

Can I insist we complete?
The government allows you ‘to move house where reasonably necessary’ during this time. So you can ask to complete, but if someone in the chain has been formally asked to isolate for 12 weeks because they are vulnerable or people are self-isolating because they may or do have Coronavirus, you could be putting everyone’s lives at risk and this is not within Government guidance. Bear in mind your buyer’s circumstances may have changed through no fault of their own. So, please, be understanding and kind. In essence, it is as true as ever that dates have to be negotiated between all parties, no matter how frustrated you may feel.

Who insures a property during exchange and completion?
It is the responsibility of the buyer to insure the property during exchange and completion, but the seller’s lender will also require the seller to maintain the insurance until the mortgage is repaid. Talk to your legal and insurance companies if you are unsure how to proceed and if it is your buyer insuring the property, make sure you have their details just in case you need them in an emergency.

If the property is going to be empty for over 30 days you should check with the insurer whether it will still be covered or whether you will need specialist insurance.

What if my buyer pulls out?
People always get nervous when there is uncertainty and these are extraordinary times. If you have exchanged and your buyer pulls out for a valid reason eg they have lost their job, lost their own buyer, their mortgage offer has been pulled, then under normal contract terms a seller would still be entitled to damages, however if you have varied the contract to defer completion because of Coronavirus, the clause will probably allow a buyer to withdraw for these reasons without penalty.  Check with your property lawyer.

If they wish to pull out because they are nervous of what might happen to property prices or committing, then unless the normal contract terms have been changed, you are entitled to a percentage of the deposit.

If you have not exchanged, your buyer can pull out at any time. Although your property can still be marketed online, unfortunately properties can’t be viewed during stay at home measures, so talk to your agent about how they can re-market the property and secure interest and potential viewings, when the stay at home measures is over.

Can I still exchange during stay at home measures? 
This will depend on whether a mortgage is required and if a valuation/survey has been done or not. If your buyer is a cash buyer and/or they have a mortgage but the valuation/survey has already been done, you can exchange, but with a contract that will leave a date open to complete.

If the mortgage valuation has not been carried out but you and the lender are happy with a desktop valuation then you may be able to complete. However, in my view all properties should have a survey prior to exchange as you never know what ‘hidden’ defects there are on a property, however good it looks.

If my sale is aborted, what costs will I incur? 
If you have already exchanged, you may be able to claim the aborted costs from your buyer, depending on why they pulled out (see: What if my buyer pulls out?). If you haven’t exchanged you are likely to incur small costs such as those which are finance related, but speak to your lender/broker, under the circumstances they may wave any fees incurred. If your legal company was booked on a ‘no sale, no fee’ basis, they you will be charged for any fees incurred on your behalf, but not the law firm’s charges for their legal work.  If your legal company is not on a ‘no sale, no fee’ basis then you will have to pay for their work to date.  This will vary depending on how long your transaction has been going and how much work they have done so do check with them.  As with lenders/brokers, talk to your legal company, they may be lenient during this time.

Even if you are on a ‘no sale, no fee’ basis, this does not apply once contracts are exchanged.

Why are some removal companies saying they won’t move me?
Removal companies are in a tricky position. They are being told they can carry out work for ‘critical moves’ as long as they meet the Government guidelines. However, they cannot easily meet the 2m social distancing and will clearly be constantly touching your items, which even if they wear gloves, won’t protect it. They will also be in your old and new home and likely to be in contact with you. Moreover, you need to consider if you are happy to have individuals they do not know and know little about moving their possessions and interacting with them at this time.

The main trade body for removal companies is the British Association of Removers. They have, immediately post the Prime Minister's address to the nation, advised their members not to move people. If a company does agree to move you, please note they cannot easily do this within the Government guidelines and you will be exposing yourself and your family to potential infection.

Do I need to clean a property before I move out or in? 
Ideally yes, but this is something you need your legal company to agree with other parties. For example, confirm who is cleaning which property – should you clean the one you are leaving or clean the one you are moving to. Here are the Government guidelines for cleaning a property.


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