Moving house during Covid-19

Jonathan Scullion

THE past few months have been a turbulent time for most sectors across Northern Ireland. We have all had to adapt in order to cope with the Covid-19 situation, the restrictions which were implemented and subsequent disruption to normal practices. The property market was no exception.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 came into effect on March 28 and meant that moving house at this time could only be done where it was reasonably necessary, not just because it was desirable, convenient timing or for financial benefit. In short, the market was closing and many deals were put on hold. It was advisable not to rush into contract given the uncertainty.

As restrictions began to ease in June, the Law Society published a set of ‘Coronavirus Special Conditions’ to be incorporated into residential conveyancing contracts in order to offer a greater degree of flexibility for those involved in residential conveyancing transactions.

This practical step provides that, should a coronavirus related event occur and prevent completion on a specified date or hinder a contractual obligation, neither party would be liable for breaching the contract which could result in paying damages or the service of a notice to complete.

Parties can then agree a date or if not, completion will be postponed for 30 working days. If completion couldn’t take place within three months of notice of such event, either party could rescind the contract and have any deposits returned.

So, what constitutes a coronavirus event? Such events include another lockdown, isolation of the vendor or purchaser or anyone living with them, withdrawal or expiration of a mortgage offer used to fund the transaction, issues with removal firms, delays in obtaining third party pre-completion inspections such as necessary building control.

This is in addition to delays in compulsory searches to discover more information about the property, the unavailability to get surveys or valuations carried out or where transactions are in a chain and completion is conditional upon completion of another transaction.

Including adapted special conditions in a contract is a common-sense approach to alleviate difficulties faced during the present situation whilst still facilitating business. It promotes co-operation to reach completion but it does not offer parties a chance to renege on other contractual aspects which remain valid and binding.

Fortunately, there remains a strong desire to buy property, with a surge in conveyancing instructions over the past few months This is, no doubt, prompted by the stamp duty holiday which lasts until March 31 next year.

This means that any purchase of a main residence property up to the value of £500,000 will not incur this land tax and could save prospective buyers thousands of pounds. Equally, purchasers of second homes and buy-to-let properties can also benefit from a raised threshold of half a million pounds but will still be subject to the 3 per cent surcharge as before. This will hopefully revitalise the property market post-lockdown.

It is recommended that prospective buyers start the process as soon as possible as it may take between 10-12 weeks to reach completion, so you are thinking of buying or selling a house, contact a solicitor a conveyancing quotation.

Jonathan Scullion ( is a solicitor at McKees ( specialising in conveyancing and property related matters

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