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Buying and selling a house under COVID-19 levels 2 and 3

26 August 2020

Can I Put My Property on the Market?

Alert Level 2     

Yes, real estate agents can market a property as long as they follow the requirements for physical distancing, hygiene, and contact tracing.

Alert Level 3

Yes, real estate agents can still market properties. However, they can’t see clients or members of the public in their offices. Helpfully, a lot of the sale and purchase process can be carried out remotely.

 

Am I Allowed to Run an Open Home?

Alert Level 2     

Yes, open homes are allowed, as long as you/your agent follow the requirements for physical distancing, hygiene, and contact tracing.

Alert Level 3     

No, agents are not allowed to run open homes.  All properties should be shown online instead.  Private viewings can be arranged but you will need to check this with the agent first.

 

Will Auctions be Running?

Alert Level 2     

Yes, auctions are allowed at level 2 as long as attendance is limited to no more than 100 people. You should practice physical distancing and maintain a 2 metre distance between each person attending the auction.  Details must also be recorded for contact tracing purposes.

Alert Level 3     

Potential buyers can’t attend auctions in person, however real estate agents are able to run auctions virtually via video or phone.  There are also alternatives for sellers, such as price by negotiation, deadline sales, and offer and acceptance via pricing a property.

 

How will Sale and Purchase Agreements be Signed?

Alert Level 2     

The Vendor and Purchaser can meet in person to sign the contract as long as the rules around hygiene, contact tracing and 2 metre distancing are followed.  It’s important that your contract is reviewed by a lawyer before you sign, and that a clause is inserted to explain how settlement will occur if the alert level changes.

Alert Level 3     

If it’s possible to sign documents remotely, this is preferable.  As a last resort, face to face meetings are allowed between a lawyer and client. A lawyer can visit a client at their home or in a public place, so long as the requirements for physical distancing, hygiene, and contact tracing are met.  A COVID-19 Safety Plan must be in place. The number of people in contact should be kept to a minimum.  Again, please ensure that your lawyer has a chance to review the agreement to make sure the appropriate clauses are included.

 

Can Contracts go Unconditional?

Alert Level 2     

Yes, contracts can go unconditional under level 2, although this is likely to happen over the phone or via email as there is no need for you to see your lawyer to confirm your contract.  Property inspectors, builders, valuers, engineers and other tradespeople can carry out site visits at any time with the consent of the Vendor and Tenants (if applicable) as long as they are complying with the health requirements for level 2.

Alert Level 3     

Your lawyer is able to order copies of the title documents and the Council’s LIM report during all Alert Level stages and check these for you. While we can’t meet with you in person, we can email you our reports and follow this up with a phone call.

Banks and insurers are operating through all Alert Levels and can process finance and insurance applications. There may be some delays in processing applications, therefore talk to the agent and your lawyer about making sure you allow yourself enough time.

Note that purchasers who are new to a bank may not be able to obtain loan documents until they are able to have a face to face meeting with their bank.  They can still progress their finance application, however banks have advised that they will not send loan documents to lawyers until that face to face meeting has happened. Builders, valuers and other experts are also allowed to attend properties to undertake building and contamination inspections under Alert Level 3 if they follow strict hygiene and social distancing requirements.

 

Can I Move into a New Property?

Alert Level 2     

Yes, buyers and sellers can move homes, even if that means moving regions.  The exception to this may be if you are moving from one region to another, and the regions are in different alert levels.

Alert Level 3     

Yes, provided you are undertaking a ‘permanent’ move (i.e. going to stay with some friends for a few weeks is still not allowed). You are also allowed to move between regions as required.  Moving companies are also operational under Alert Level 3.

 

Can Property Settlements be Completed?

Alert Level 2     

Yes, settlements can be completed and pre-settlement inspections carried out, as long as health requirements are met by the agent and the purchaser and contact tracing has been completed by everyone.

Alert Level 3     

Yes, settlements can also be completed under Alert Level 3. Pre-settlement inspections can happen as long as the health requirements are met and contact tracing has been completed.  If the property is tenanted, the tenant will need to give their approval. Settlement documents will need to be signed remotely as in-person meetings with your lawyer and bank are not allowed unless there is no alternative remote option.

 

Please Take Advice

Norris Ward McKinnon is happy to assist both vendors and purchasers (as well as agents) with their queries about property transactions during COVID-19 restrictions. Please contact a member of our property team for specialist advice.

 

Disclaimer: As this is an ever-evolving situation, our summary of the legal position is subject to change

 

Barbara McDermott is a Partner in the Private Client Team at Norris Ward McKinnon. You can contact Barbara here.

 

Gill Whinray is an Associate in the Private Client Team at Norris Ward McKinnon. You can contact Gill here.