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Coronavirus: Legal & Compliance Update – Sales, with NAEA Propertymark

Webinar recorded live on

NAEA Propertymark’s Mark Hayward joined us on 14th April to provide an update on the latest guidance and advice to help you deal with the impact of the ongoing pandemic on your Estate Agency, followed by a live Q&A.

This webinar focused on Sales. There was a separate session covering lettings on 7th April with ARLA Propertymark’s David Cox. You can watch it back here:

Watch the recording now by clicking the video module above, or read a summary of some of Mark’s key points in the notes below.

Summary of Mark’s opening remarks

We (Propertymark) are speaking to the government 2 or 3 times a week at the moment. They understand the importance of the property sector and are already looking at ways of revitalizing the sector once we come out of lockdown. Be reassured that the importance of house buying and selling is high on their agenda.

There have been some updates from Government and others in recent weeks to provide clarity on a few things:

  • The sales protocol has been issued – make sure all property is market-ready and sales-ready when we come out of this.
  • Guidance has been issued around EPCs. You can read a summary of the government guidance on EPCs here.
  • The Coronavirus Act has been passed, advising against all but essential moves.
  • Housing transactions can still be registered by the Land Registry in England (although not Scotland as the system is not digitised)
  • Law Society have updated their protocols on how sales can be progressed.
  • Clarity on furloughing staff has been provided and you should make yourself aware of the conditions around how to claim the money. The portal from HMRC will be opened next month.
  • Guidance to all businesses regarding customer due diligence has been issued and Propertymark is publishing that later today – advising that more electronic checks are now feasible.

I also urge you to start thinking about your agency terms. The clock is ticking on your agency terms and you can’t extend them without the consent of your client. So if it’s likely to expire before lockdown, I’d suggest you have a conversation with your vendor now and get their agreement in email to an extension.

Mark’s responses to your specific questions

Are branches still allowed to be open? Some agents are still operating in my area behind closed doors, albeit with a skeleton staff

We are not considered an essential service and the advice is to work from home wherever possible. There may be some instances where people may have to visit an office because the IT system that handles their day to day business isn’t accessible from home, but I would countenance against it.

How can we move sales from exchange to completion if the removal companies and solicitors aren’t making any effort?

Firstly, communicate with both sides. If contracts have been exchanged, a completion date will have been set. That date can be renegotiated but needs both parties’ lawyers to agree to it. My experience is that most of them have some staff still available.  For removals, the British Association of Removers has told its members not to do any moves for at least three weeks. I suspect that will continue. Some moves are still happening (about 10-15% of normal volumes), where people are choosing to move their items themselves.

What about moving into empty properties?

Moves are more feasible, but again they strictly do go against the government’s guidance, if it is not essential. You need to do your own risk assessment on whether it’s been cleaned and sanitized.

When will surveyors be able to visit properties to carry out mortgage valuations, especially if they’re empty properties?

The majority of surveyors are either on furlough or have moved to desktop valuations. That situation will likely only change when the government’s advice around lockdown is lifted.

Can I go into an empty property to film a video or take photos?

Strictly, no. We are not an essential service. We’ve been told to work from home and the government’s guidance is do not leave your home except to buy food or for a small period of exercise.

If the property is not empty, then lots of agents are asking the occupant (vendor/tenant) to take photos or do the video tour, and there is lots of training out there offering advice on how to do that.

What should we do about EPCs?

You can read a summary of the government guidance on EPCs here.

Have the anti-money laundering requirements to check ID in person been revised?

Yes. HMRC have issued guidance that allows you to rely upon electronic checking if face to face isn’t possible.

What is the government doing to help make sure the market bounces back, that you mentioned in your intro?

I can only tell you some things, and not others. A few of the things are:

  • A forum for Public Health England to produce guidance as to how we can perform the functions of Estate Agency when lockdown is lifted
  • Issuing practical guidance to agents
  • Looking at ways to aid the housing market recovery, as it’s a big part of the economy
What’s your view on what property prices will do? There’s a lot of speculation about falling prices

Firstly, newspapers always love a bit of scaremongering.

Activity at the end of December until early March was much better than previous years, where we saw the pent up demand from the Brexit delays and election being released. We also still have a limited supply of stock and people still have to move.

We need to be reassuring movers at this time and not talking ourselves into a situation where prices get reduced.

The government, I know, has plans to encourage home ownership particularly amongst first time buyers and I’m sure will help keep things moving.

Can we use e-signatures to extend agency agreements?

Yes. We’ve got advice from National Trading Standards on this that you can do so as long as you have an email trail of the correspondence and signature, that is sufficient to extend it.

Is the Regulation of Property Agents going to be delayed?

We’ve asked for clarity. The reality is it’s not top of the government’s agenda right now. The government doesn’t want to put any additional pressure on our sector today, but it’s not saying it won’t do so tomorrow. It isn’t going away though, so now is actually a great time to start preparing for it and clocking up your training hours.