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27 March 2020, 00:27 | Updated: 27 March 2020, 11:34
Britons are being told not to move house during the coronavirus outbreak to avoid breaking the rules on social distancing, in another huge blow to the UK property market.
With some banks already withdrawing mortgages from sale, the government's order that all house moves be put on hold will effectively freeze the housing market.
In new government advice, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick's department declared: "Homebuyers and renters should, where possible, delay moving to a new house while measures are in place to fight coronavirus (COVID-19)."
The announcement was reflected on the stock market, with house-builders all seeing sharp falls in their values on Friday.
In an attempt to breathe some life into the market, mortgage lenders have agreed to extend all house purchase loan offers by three months to give borrowers more time to complete transactions.
But some lenders, such as Virgin Money and Skipton Building Society, have suspended all new mortgage applications for house purchases until the crisis has passed.
And the government has revealed that the banking trade body UK Finance has been in talks with ministers about a wider freeze on property sales as normal life is suspended to fight the pandemic.
The government's new advice on house moves states: "Given the situation in the UK with regard to the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), we urge parties involved in home moving to adapt and be flexible to alter their usual processes.
"There is no need to pull out of transactions, but we all need to ensure we are following guidance to stay at home and away from others at all times, including the specific measures for those who are presenting symptoms, self-isolating or shielding. Prioritising the health of individuals and the public must be the priority.
"Where the property being moved into is vacant, then you can continue with this transaction although you should follow the guidance in this document on home removals.
"Where the property is currently occupied, we encourage all parties to do all they can to amicably agree alternative dates to move, for a time when it is likely that stay-at-home measures against coronavirus (COVID-19) will no longer be in place."
But in a minor concession, the advice goes on: "In the new emergency enforcement powers that the police have been given to respond to coronavirus, there is an exemption for critical home moves, in the event that a new date is unable to be agreed."
The advice continues: "Our advice is that if you have already exchanged contracts and the property is currently occupied then all parties should work together to agree a delay or another way to resolve this matter.
"If moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and the parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay, people must follow advice on staying away from others to minimise the spread of the virus.
"In line with government's advice, anyone with symptoms, self-isolating or shielding from the virus, should follow medical advice which will mean not moving house for the time being, if at all possible. All parties should prioritise agreeing amicable arrangements to change move dates for individuals in this group, or where someone in a chain is in this group."
Would-be sellers are told: "Getting your home onto the market may be more challenging than usual in this period. There should be no visitors to your home.
"You can speak to estate agents over the phone and they will be able to give you general advice about the local property market and handle certain matters remotely but they will not be able to start actively marketing your home in the usual manner.
"If your property is already on the market, you can continue to advertise it as being for sale but you should not allow people in to view your property.
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"There should not be any visitors into your home, and you should therefore not let people visit your property for viewings. Your agent may be able to conduct virtual viewings and you could speak to them about this possibility.
"The buying and selling process can continue during this period but you should be aware that the process is likely to take longer than normal.
"You are free to continue to accept offers on your property, however the selling process may take longer.
"Advice for people to stay at home and away from others means you should not invite visitors into your home, including prospective buyers or advisers."
The advice concludes: "Once you have exchanged contracts, you have entered into a legal agreement to purchase that home.
"If the property you are purchasing is unoccupied you can continue with the transaction.
"If the property you are purchasing is currently occupied, we recommend that all parties should work either delay the exchange of contracts until after the period where stay-at-home measures to fight coronavirus (COVID-19) are in place, or include explicit contractual provisions to take account of the risks presented by the virus."