After Lockdown – House Moves Will Happen, but Be Patient
By Michael Fitzgerald
There is a growing focus on how and when current lockdown restrictions will be eased. The timing and means of this remain unknown, but we do know that it will happen.
Our business, like many others, had clients already in a contract to buy or sell a property, but due to lockdown were unable to complete their deals. There was a perfect storm of the Registers of Scotland closing applications, removal companies not being able to operate and lenders having restricted operational abilities due to social distancing requirements. Over the lockdown period, we have managed to complete a few deals, but these have been very limited and the exception the rule.
There’s no doubt this will have had meaningful consequences. Apart from the emotional impact of disappointment and anxiety, there may also have been financial consequences. In normal circumstances, this is where lawyers would be consulted. However, most clients have been accepting of current circumstances and understand it is no one’s fault – it’s just the way it is.
The legal position on these contracts is far from clear. The Edinburgh Conveyancer Forum has obtained an Opinion from a law professor in relation to the Standard Clauses, which, in summary, is that the contracts are suspended. People should act sensibly in trying to get them completed when they can and not expect the courts to be sympathetic to claims where no one has been at fault.
We sense that many clients think that as lockdown is eased, they will quickly be able to complete their deal. This may not be the case.
Removal companies have a backlog of moves and dates which were unable to be fulfilled and will need to be reallocated. This can’t be done until we know how and when lockdown will be eased. Due to this, sellers and buyers must be sensible when trying to fix a new completion date. Buyers will need to get their funding package triggered, with the timing of this depending on lenders’ operational abilities as lockdown eases. Furthermore, the Registers of Scotland will need to have their operational capacity increased – the use of digital applications will greatly assist with this.
Everyone is going to need a high degree of tolerance, understanding and patience as lockdown eases and house moves can start again.
If you are a lawyer, be sensible and do what you can to manage your client’s expectations and take into account the extraordinary times we are living in. If you are a client, manage your own expectations and try to understand that everyone is doing what they can to get your deal done.
If we can maintain the patience, tolerance and neighbourliness we have collectively shown over the past few weeks, our transition through lockdown will be much smoother as we begin on the road to normality. If there’s a silver lining in this situation, I hope it’s higher levels of patience and cooperation across clients and lawyers alike. That can’t be a bad thing, can it?