During the Second World War, the government promoted the idea that “carrots help you see in the dark”. Whilst carrots contain vitamin A which can reduce the risk of vision loss, they certainly do not help night vision.
The story was designed for two reasons. Firstly, the RAF were using new technology to spot bombers in the dark and to throw the enemy off track, they claimed pilots could see in the dark because they ate a lot of carrots. Secondly, they wanted the public to eat more vegetables and be better able to deal with the frequent air raid blackouts, so this idea was useful here as well.
Which does beg the following question?
What has eating carrots got to do with the appallingly difficult predicament we find ourselves in, and, given that I run a conveyancing company, where are we going with this?
Government guidance or the law?
When governments give advice, like “eat more carrots” people typically believe it and comply. That’s why, on the Monday, when the government told everyone to stay at home if they could, despite there being no law in place, as it was in the public interest, most people did.
When the regulations were published on the following Thursday, it was clear the restrictions on movement stated within it, did not apply to those looking to move house where reasonably necessary. This was positive news for everyone in the property industry.
Sadly, that same industry was brought down to earth with a bump the following morning, when the front pages of newspapers, and the radio and television news all advised people not to move house.
These media stories were based on advice the government had released saying that, where possible, people should not move – somewhat contradicting what they had enacted in law a few hours earlier. However, they did suggest that for those people that did need to move, then flexibility was key.
So what should lawyers do?
The mere suggestion by conveyancing solicitors that they would continue to help their clients move towards exchange brought angry exchanges online. Commentators who had previously bemoaned the lack of urgency from lawyers, now condemned those as irresponsible for carrying on working.
Lawyers are caught between a rock and a hard place – to continue to work and keep deals moving or not?
We are aware of lawyers following the Law Society’s advice and are not helping their clients move towards exchange. The argument is based on the idea that if a client cannot meet the agreed completion date, the lawyer should have advised them not to exchange. The other, more depressing question, is what happens if people die between exchange and completion.
The fundamental problem with both these arguments is that these conditions exist and are dealt with during normal day to day conveyancing – legally, the current, albeit terrible situation is no different.
For example, when buying a newbuild property, completion dates are, by the very nature of development, constantly changing, and there are standard mechanisms in place already to deal with these.
Sadly, people do die between exchange and completion (indeed, in December 2019, we had to deal with two cases) and again, there are standard processes and procedures that are followed in such cases.
The reality of the situation is this. Our clients want to move house and it is our job to help them achieve this. Obviously, we must ensure they are following guidelines to reduce the risk of spreading the virus and not putting people’s lives at risk but that does not mean that we should stop working for them.
We believe those lawyers that have chosen to stop working and are not helping their clients through the process, are not acting in their best interests, and that is unacceptable.
Whilst we are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t, we believe it is in everyone’s interests for lawyers to continue working towards exchange of contracts. There are standard mechanisms in place such as completing “on notice” and simple clauses that can be used to help give our clients the certainty and protection they need. Last week, we have been sharing these with agents to give to lawyers who don’t know how to draft them, and this has helped them get deals over the line.
We believe 100% in following government guidance, but like the carrots, things are rarely as black and white as the media would like to make it.