Susanna Wood is due to move in less than three weeks but isn’t sure if this will still go ahead
Homebuyers have been left in limbo after the Government urged the public not to move house during the coronavirus lockdown.
Those in the middle of the buying process told us they are now unsure when they will be able to complete on the purchase of their new home.
One purchaser said they have committed to buy a new flat but their buyer has pulled out.
And a couple are due to move in less than three weeks, but are unsure whether they’ll be able to do so at all.
The housing market has been thrown into chaos amid the coronavirus outbreak, with reports that banks are limiting their mortgage lending and removal firms shutting their doors.
Confusion followed an announcement by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who urged the public to cancel plans to exchange house contracts.
Adding to the confusion, banking giants Halifax and Barclays have pulled new mortgage offers for all borrowers without at least a 40 per cent deposit.
First-time buyer Susanna Wood, 29, exchanged on her new home at the start of this month, with her boyfriend.
At that time, coronavirus was not the issue in Britain that it is now, and no announcements about lockdown or not buying a home had been made by the Government.
As such, the couple had no concerns about proceeding with the purchase of the property in Surrey and had a completion date set for 15 April.
But now, says Susanna, who works for the savings app Plum, the couple don’t know if they can move home – and they have already given notice on their rented flat in London.
She has been in touch with her solicitors and has been told that, so far, the move is ‘progressing as planned’.
She said: ‘We’re hoping the move still goes ahead on that date and is not delayed as we don’t know what could then happen. It may be months before we move.
‘If it doesn’t we’re concerned about where we can go as the country has been told not to visit friends or family amid the coronavirus, let alone stay with them.’
If it doesn’t happen we’re concerned about where we can go
Homebuyer, Susanna Wood
However, even if the sale goes ahead, the removal company has cancelled their booking and the couple are struggling to find a replacement.
She said: ‘It’s now looking like our only option is to rent a van and do it ourselves.
‘This may be just about feasible for the two of us moving out of a tiny one-bed, but I’m not sure how bigger families will be able to do it.’
The couple are currently living in a rental flat, which they need to leave on 14 April after giving two months’ notice. They were hoping to stay with family that night before moving into their new home.
Tom Matthews was due to exchange on a new home but has now been left in limbo
However, there are now restrictions in place on visiting friends and family.
Under normal circumstances, once exchanged, the completion date must be adhered to or a party can sue.
However, estate agent trade body NAEA Propertymark has suggested that if all parties’ solicitors agreed, dates could perhaps be pushed back.
As an example of how many people could be affected by the housing market freeze, in January this year some 70,900 buyers were approved for a mortgage.
This number doesn’t include those buying property with cash without needing to secure a loan.
Tom says he can’t relist his property as people have stopped viewing
Allowing for the average eight to 12-week period between agreeing a sale and moving, this indicates that tens of thousands of people are potentially now stuck in limbo as they would have expected to move in the next three weeks.
Tom Matthews and his family were due to exchange on a new home but have now been left in limbo after their buyer put the brakes on the sale.
He said: ‘Our buyer is no longer willing to commit to an exchange or completion date, although he does iterate his desire to purchase the property – he just won’t say when or when he will make a decision on that.
‘He is a pilot for an airline so has perhaps seen some of the worst of the virus from an economic standpoint.’
Tom was still hoping to move with his wife Daniella, 30, and two-year-old son, but he said that no longer seems possible.
He said: ‘For now at least, we are in limbo. I want to buy and move but our buyer isn’t committing and there is no use my relisting the property as we can’t arrange any viewings on it for the foreseeable.’
Unfortunately for Tom, who works for mortgage broker Coreco, the delay will mean his mortgage payments will increase by 50 per cent, as he’ll fall on to his lender’s standard variable rate at the end of this month.
‘I might consider taking up the three month mortgage payment holiday as a result though I haven’t as yet,’ he added.
The delay will mean Tom’s mortgage costs will increase by 50 per cent at the end of the month
Anna Manby is one of these buyers. She told This is Money she has nearly completed the house buying process, but her mortgage lender has now stopped replying to her emails.
‘Our house move has been eventful and, at times, incredibly frustrating,’ she said. ‘Our offer had been accepted on a new place, searches were done and the surveys were all completed.
‘We just received our mortgage offer confirmation via our broker last week but we need an official letter from the bank to arrange exchange and completion. It has been a week and it still hasn’t come – we’ve been informed the bank are now operating with less than half their staff and there’s a major backlog.
Tom and his wife are considering taking a three-month mortgage holiday because of the delay to their sale
‘It’s stressful to think that anything could happen in the economy now that could make all of this fall through at the very last hurdle.’
Anna and her partner aren’t part of a chain, so won’t have to worry about finding a place to live if their sale falls through.
However, it’s likely they will lose all the money they have spent so far trying to secure the house.
She said: ‘If it falls through we’ll be stuck where we are for the foreseeable future and we will have spent a lot of money on applications, surveys and solicitor fees.
‘Although it’s stressful to think about, it’s out of our control and in the context of everything that is happening in the world at the moment it seems small. I know a lot of people are in much more difficult situations.
‘We’re still hoping it’ll all go through – but I know the Land Registry in Scotland has shut, which could also happen in England soon.
We may be in a situation where we’ve exchanged but won’t be able to complete for months
‘So we may be in a situation where we’ve exchanged but won’t be able to complete for months.
If it does all happen, we might not actually be able to move simply because moving companies are barred from operating.
‘The companies we have spoken to aren’t clear if they can do anything and are looking for more guidance from the Government. We could always rent a car and make a few trips, although I’m not even sure if you can rent a car at the moment – that’ll be next on my list of enquiries.’
Michael Gove suggested yesterday that people should cancel plans to move house
If the lockdown period continues beyond the initial three week period, even more buyers will be affected.
Only those who have exchanged contracts are locked into completion dates, but even those who have not got this far may be expecting to exchange imminently and may now feel unable to commit, throwing their plans into disarray.
Those who are part of a chain also need to worry about whether the buyer for their property will be able to complete the purchase.
Another buyer, Steve Smith, told This is Money that the buyer for his home has had to pull out, putting the purchase of a new build home in jeopardy.
He said: ‘Today I received a call from my solicitor informing me that due to the buyer of my property losing his job as a consequence of coronavirus. They have had to pull out of the deal.
‘We were in the process of signing missives. This has an effect on the purchase of our new build home that I’ve paid a significant amount of money on on upgrades.’
Trying to move? What you can do
If you’re trying to move house and are unsure how the Government’s announcement will affect you, removal quote provider Reallymoving has put together the following advice:
Securing a mortgage
· Be prepared to provide evidence of job security, something banks will be checking even more closely than usual.
· With surveyors currently unable to carry out valuation surveys, expect your application to be delayed.
· If you already have a mortgage offer in place, speak to your lender to check that the offer is still valid and that the level of borrowing you’re taking on remains manageable if your job situation has changed.
· If you have not yet exchanged, hold off for now. Spend this period of time ensuring that all queries have been answered and as much of the process has been completed as possible, so you’re ready to press the button and exchange as soon as the lockdown is lifted.
· If you have already exchanged and are due to complete within the next three weeks, speak to your solicitor as soon as possible to try and agree a new completion date beyond the lockdown period with all other parties.
· If you have already exchanged with a completion date beyond the next three weeks, monitor the situation closely. Ask your solicitor to begin conversations with other parties – you may need to act quickly to agree a new date if the lockdown period is extended.
· Money laundering checks, which require buyers to provide certified copies of proof of identity and proof of address documents, can currently still be carried out at the Post Office.
· There will be delays to searches as Local Authority offices go into lockdown and cannot physically carry them out. If searches on your purchase have not yet been completed, you may have to wait until lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Arranging a survey
· It will no longer be possible for a surveyor to carry out a survey on a property as this is considered non-essential activity. Buyers will need to wait for restrictions on movement to be lifted.
· The British Association of Removers has issued guidance to its members to postpone all moves during the lockdown period, except those which are already underway.
· While the vast majority of removals will now be delayed, movers can still get quotes and choose a removals firm in advance of their move.
· Surveys can be carried out over Facetime in order to provide removals quotes, which will take a little longer than an in-person visit. However, these may result in missing items, so be sure to double check the quote to make sure everything is included.
Rob Houghton, chief executive of Reallymoving, said: ‘Those who now unexpectedly find themselves at home with time on their hands, should use it wisely to get all their affairs in order. Do as much online research as possible, prepare your home and garden for sale and ensure you’re in the best position to move forward when the crisis subsides.’
Landlords and tenants fear financial ruin, says property expert calling for the Government to step in and cover rent during the coronavirus outbreak
Calls are being made for rents to be paid in full directly by the Government if a tenant is affected by the coronavirus.
It may be the only way to keep tenants in their homes amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to David Cox, of ARLA Propertymark.
He explained how tenants and landlords are facing ‘financial ruin’ amid the virus crisis.
Could rents be paid directly by the Government if a tenant is affected by the coronavirus?
The Government has already taken steps to protect tenants, including banning evictions and offering mortgage holidays to landlords.
But these may not be enough to prevent some tenants from losing the roof over their head.
Mr Cox told MailOnline Property: ‘Tenants face financial ruin amid mounting rent arrears and crippling debt if they fall through the gaps of the Government’s current provisions.
‘This is particularly the case for those who work in the gig economy or who are self-employed.
‘The knock-on effect of this is that landlords are not receiving their rent and are falling into financial ruin, which ripples out across the economy.’
Tenants are at risk of losing their home if they are unable to pay their rent – a risk heightened during the current crisis as tenants may have lost their job or fallen ill.
It means everyone in the property chain is affected if a tenant is unable to pay their rent, from the tenant to the landlord who may not be able to pay their mortgage if no rent is coming in.
Mr Cox explained that by stepping in early on, it means everyone in this chain can benefit.
‘For everyone’s sake, the Government needs to pay people’s rents if they are impacted by the coronavirus.
‘It is what the welfare state is there to do and the Government needs to do the right thing.’
How would it work?
It needs to work on a self-declaration basis, according to Mr Cox, where those who have lost their income – ether through falling ill or being laid off – apply for their rent to be paid via Universal Credit.
They would send evidence that they had lost their income to the Department of Work and Pensions, and their rent could be paid direct to their landlord.
Evidence could include a sick note issued by calling 111, a P45 or confirmation from their former employer that they had been laid off.
Could it encourage fraudulent claims?
In a word, yes. However, Mr Cox says it is time to act and to work on trust.
‘We need to trust people that they are making a legitimate claim. Now is the time to protect the 99 per cent of legitimate claims and deal with the 1 per cent of fraudsters later,’ he said.
‘If these measures are introduced immediately, then tenants don’t need to worry as they have the rent coming in and landlords are protected,’ he added.
Calls for such rents to be paid follows confusion about the Government’s announcement that it was banning evictions during the coronavirus outbreak.
There is confusion among some landlords and tenants about exactly what this means.
The ban does not stop a landlord from serving notices on a tenant such as Section 21 to seek possession of a property or Section 8 if a tenant has broken the terms of the tenancy.
This should not be confused with evictions, which is defined as forcibly removing a tenant from a property.
To evict a tenant, you need to start court proceedings, and these can only begin if the tenant refuses to surrender possession of a property at the end of a notice period.
As such, when the Government says it is banning evictions, it means that it is preventing the beginning of this court process.
It has achieved this by extending the notice period on Section 21 notices from two months to three months. It means no tenant can be forcibly evicted during this period.
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