Building sites in England can remain open during the Coronavirus lockdown, says the Housing Secretary, but estate agents and surveyors are uncertain over what amounts to “essential” in their line of work.
It seems pretty clear that property viewings are not essential. But a tenant check-in or gas safety check might be. The Government, RICS and/or Propertymark are likely to issue more detailed guidance shortly.
UPDATE, 25th March: The Government has sought to clarify its immediate position; home moves should be delayed if at all possible, but buyers and tenants can go ahead with essential moves provided they follow the advice given on social distancing to minimise the spread of the virus. Full guidance from The Law Society on PrimeResi here.
Knight Frank closed all its resi high street offices yesterday, with all staff now working remotely. Dexters branches are not open to the public today, but skeleton teams are pushing through move-ins, check-ins, professional cleans and tenancies.
Many buyers and vendors are backing out of sales completely or pausing the conveyancing process. But we’re hearing of some deals still going through – with delayed completion dates. Some solicitors, meanwhile, are advising that simultaneous completion and exchange is the best way to avoid breaking contract.
Many removals companies have withdrawn their services; the British Association of Removers is advising that unstarted moves should be postponed. So expect some frantic at-home footwork from agents and solicitors trying to shore-up chains as completion dates get pushed back indefinitely.
Housing & Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has had a stab at clarifying things for the construction and building maintenance sector. “If you can work from home, do so,” he Tweeted. “If you are working on site, you can continue to do so. But follow Public Health England guidance on social distancing. Outside of work, remember to #StayHomeSaveLives.”
There’s different advice coming from the Scottish Government. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called for builders to down tools and sites to be closed to thwart the spread of the virus.
Advice for the housing, construction & building maintenance industries:
🔹If you can work from home, do so.
🔹If you are working on site, you can continue to do so. But follow Public Health England guidance on social distancing.
🔹Outside of work, remember to #StayHomeSaveLives
— Robert Jenrick (@RobertJenrick) March 23, 2020
Housebuilder Galliard has closed all its building/construction sites across London, except for “important safety works”, sending some 2,500 workers home.
Smaller building projects are probably at the discretion of the builder and their client: few could argue with providing a family with a roof or connecting a water supply (as long as everyone stays six feet apart), but cracking on with the painting and decorating can definitely wait.
Until there’s more official guidance from the Government or respectable industry bodies, we’d counsel obeying the spirit of the lockdown, not just the letter.
Useful Information Resources
- Up-to-date official Coronavirus guidance is available here: www.gov.uk/coronavirus.
- HM Treasury has also launched a new website to help business owners decipher what support is available to them, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Business Rates holidays, “Time to Pay”, and cash grants: www.businesssupport.gov.uk/coronavirus-business-support/