Agents were finally told last night that they should not open branches to the public or visit people’s homes, and prospective sellers were warned that agents would not be able to market their homes as normal.
The Government also said that agents should “ensure” that employees can work from home.
The advice, published under the headline of “Buying and selling homes during this stay-at-home period”, says that agents should “continue to progress sales where this can be done whilst following guidance to stay at home and away from others”.
The Government’s new guidelines say that there “is no need to pull out of transactions” and draws attention to the exemption for “critical home moves” – those that go ahead where the parties cannot agree a new date.
Removals firms have been told that they should honour their existing commitments “where it is clear that the move can be done safely” and where the moving date cannot be changed.
The advice contradicts, and presumably over-rides, advice from removals industry body BAR to its members that they should cancel or postpone moves that had not started by the evening of March 23, when Boris Johnson gave his “stay at home” speech.
The Government yesterday evening said that it has issued its new guidance in conjunction with Public Health England.
It reiterated that home buyers and renters should, where possible, delay moving.
The new guidelines also distinguish between moving into empty properties, and those still occupied. In the former case, the transaction can be continued; in the latter case, the parties should seek to delay exchange of contract, or the contracts should include specific provisions.
UK Finance, the trade body for lenders, says that its members are working for ways to extend mortgage offers for up to three months, enabling buyers to move at a later date.
The new government guidance says that if a customer’s circumstances change during that three month period, lenders will work with customers to help them manage their finances as a matter of urgency.
The guidance also warns potential sellers that “getting your home on to the market may be more challenging than usual in this period. There should be no visitors to your home.
“You can speak to estate agents over the phone and they will be able to give you general advice about the local property market and handle certain matters remotely, but they will not be able to start actively marketing your home in the usual manner.”
Last night the Law Society said it welcomed the new advice.
Law Society president Simon David said: “Those who have not exchanged contracts would be well advised to wait and those who have exchanged contracts are encouraged to take a practical view and extend the contractual completion date if this can be agreed – and if the risks are clearly understood by both buyers and sellers.”
“Our members will now be talking to their clients to try to find workable alternatives to completion in situations where there may be practical barriers whilst social distancing requirements are in place.
“They will be aiming to find pragmatic solutions in situations where contracts have been exchanged but the purchase is not yet completed.”