As with all aspects of our lives during the current COVID-19 pandemic, the property and conveyancing space has had to adapt significantly in recent weeks following the Federal Government’s announcement in late March of a ban on open homes and public auctions. In addition, real estate agents, solicitors, banks and their clients have all had to find ways to function more remotely as individuals and businesses look to implement good health practices and comply with social distancing requirements.
Despite all of this however, the property space continues (for the most part) to function relatively unimpeded, with sales and purchases still occurring every day.
Outlined below are some of the common areas of concerns for buyers and sellers as well as how those areas are being addressed where possible.
What is the impact of the ban on public auctions?
Whilst on-site and in-room auctions have been banned, auctions are continuing online. Interested buyers should contact the relevant selling agent for more information on how this is occurring. Properties are also still able to be sold through private treaty (i.e. any sale which is not an auction), and buyers wishing to avoid online auctions may wish to consider making a pre-auction offer where possible.
What is the impact of the ban on open homes?
Whilst open homes are no longer able to occur, interested buyers are still able to arrange property inspections by private appointment with the selling agent. Where you are are unable to inspect personally (for example due to quarantine or travel restrictions), appointing someone else to inspect on your behalf is an option. Professional property inspection services are also available.
In addition, some agents are providing various means for “virtual” property inspections, including video conferencing. Whilst it is strongly advisable to physically inspect the property where possible, virtual inspections can be a useful alternative where buyers are wishing to ‘view’ multiple properties and are unable to inspect, or simply do not wish to inspect multiple properties due to their own health concerns.
Am I still able to move home or hire a removalist?
At present, restrictions do not prevent buyers or sellers from moving home, although good hygiene and health practices and social distancing should be observed at all times. Social distancing restrictions may mean that individuals outside your family group are unable to assist in the move. Removalists however are considered an essential service and are still operating, although many have also changed their practices to ensure they comply with social distancing arrangements.
Those looking to move interstate may find that they are more significantly affected, as many States have placed strong restrictions on interstate travel for non-residents. Applications can be made in some cases to travel interstate, however this may be followed by mandatory periods of self-isolation upon arrival. The relevant rules of the State or Territory in question should be considered carefully before an attempt to move interstate is made.
How do I sign my documents?
Traditionally, signing documents with your solicitor or your bank has involved various levels of face to face consultation. In light of the current health concerns, Tetlow Legal has made the decision to limit face to face meetings except where absolutely crucial. We are able to review contracts with buyers and sellers via telephone or video conference, following which we will request signed documents are returned to us via email or post. Our experience thus far is that banks are employing similar practices.
Where documents are returned via electronic means, or where contracts are subsequently exchanged electronically, the Electronic Transactions Act 1999 (Cth) has a general rule confirming the validity of transactions that have taken part wholly or partly by way of electronic communications.
Is the settlement of my sale or purchase likely to be affected?
New South Wales and several other States have for some time conducted settlements entirely electronically and settlement itself will therefore be unaffected by the current restrictions.
Whilst the ACT Government is moving towards electronic settlements (with further announcements expected in the coming months), no changes have yet been implemented. Whilst the ACT continues to conduct physical settlements, additional restrictions have been placed on the ACT Law Society Settlements Room to ensure social distancing and good hygiene practices are complied with.
At present, these restrictions are not impeding ACT transactions, and business continues as normally as possible. Should restrictions increase further in the future, we will work with other law firms and banks to limit any potential impact on your transaction.
If you are buying or selling and have concerns about any of the above issues or any other aspects of your transaction, we recommend you contact our office on (02) 6140 3263 or [email protected] so that we can assist you.