First-time Buyers

Government slams brakes on housing market allowing only ‘critical’ moves

Owain Thomas
Written By:
Owain Thomas

The government is urging people to delay or not begin the process of buying or selling a home unless it is absolutely critical.

But it added there was no need to pull out of transactions and said it was working with conveyancers to establish a standard legal process for moving completion dates.
Trade bodies UK Finance and the Building Societies Association (BSA) have announced an agreement for mortgage lenders to extend offer terms by three months where contracts have already been exchanged.The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government guidance emphasised that in-person viewings by prospective buyers or estate agents should not be conducted under current restrictions.However, it does permit surveyors to conduct urgent surveys on empty properties or where the occupants are out, providing the tradesperson has no Covid-19 symptoms.

And government powers issued to police forces for enforcing the national movement restrictions allow an exemption for critical home moves, if a new date is unable to be agreed.


Key points

The guidance sets out four key points:

  • Home buyers and renters should, where possible, delay moving to a new house while measures are in place to fight Covid-19.
  • If contracts have already been exchanged and the property is currently occupied then all parties should work together to agree a delay or another way to resolve this matter.
  • If moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and the parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay, people must follow advice on staying away from others to minimise the spread of the virus.
  • Anyone with symptoms, self-isolating or shielding from the virus, should follow medical advice which will mean not moving house for the time being, if at all possible. All parties should prioritise agreeing amicable arrangements to change move dates for individuals in this group, or where someone in a chain is in this group.


It also highlighted difficulties that are likely to occur should people attempt to buy or sell a home during the restrictions and recommended those thinking of selling should use the time to start gathering together all the information needed for potential purchasers.

“Getting your home onto the market may be more challenging than usual in this period,” it said.

“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.”


I am supposed to be moving home soon – what should I do?

The government’s shutdown of the property market will impact most severely on buyers who have already exchanged contracts but have not yet completed on their property purchase. In normal circumstances if a buyers fails to complete the purchase after exchange of contracts, they forfeit some or all of their deposit. But now that the market has been frozen, the seller can’t complete either.

So if you are caught between exchange  and completion, the best course of action may be to negotiate an extension to your contracts based on ‘good faith’.

If you are waiting to exchange it could make sense to add a clause to the contract allowing either buyer or seller to agree a delayed completion date if the original completion can’t happen due to Covid-19, conditional on practical points such as the availability of removal services.