The consequences of COVID-19 on your property transactions

“Mandates can be signed electronically.”
Richard Tzipine, Managing Partner of BARNES

Is it possible to view a property if the health measures imposed by the lockdown are applied?
Richard Tzipine: No, no matter what the conditions, because property viewings are not one of the grounds authorised by the French decree of 23 March 2020 to justify travel.
The priority must be on our health and the government guidelines, “stay home”!

Can professionals visit a property to prepare a virtual viewing?
This does not seem to be authorised under the decree of 23 March 2020, as it is not essential. If a property for sale is occupied, the ideal solution would be for the professional to contact the owners to propose alternative solutions, such as photos and videos sent digitally. This has not yet been extensively developed.

Can client appointments be organised at an agency, if maximum two people are present at any one time on site?
No, due to the order of 14 March 2020 imposing the closure of physical estate agencies and prohibiting the presence of clients on these premises. However, appointments can still be conducted by phone and video conferencing. These digital exchanges can be supported by the diversification of communications media used to advertise properties.

Can arrival and departure inventories be conducted?
It would seem so, yes, as long as the barrier measures are applied and a social distance of one metre maintained.

Can professionals carry out a valuation of a property?
Yes, if this valuation is conducted without travelling to the address of the property in question. The alternative is a video valuation to provide the vendor with a personalised and relevant expert assessment. The current concern is how to correctly estimate the value of a property in this unprecedented market context. Nevertheless, we do have a relatively clear and well-supported assessment of the market.

Is moving authorised?
The French Ministry for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition recently clarified in the order dated 1 April 2020 that moving is prohibited and postponed until further notice. Only moves that cannot be postponed are still authorised.

Does housing rent still have to be paid?
Yes, according to the Ministry of Housing.

Do tenants have to pay rent for a property they have not yet moved into but for which they have signed a tenancy agreement?
In accordance with the tenant’s legal obligations, the latter is the debtor of the rent as of the start date of the lease as set out in the agreement. If the latter does not provide for the impossibility to move in, the start date of the lease may be subject to an amicable agreement between the parties in light of the exceptional circumstances.

Is the signing of a mandate, along with the online submission of the required documents, compatible with the measures imposed by the health crisis?
Yes, mandates can be signed electronically. The required documents must also be sent electronically or by post.

Should the signing of the preliminary sale agreement be suspended?
Certainly not. Indeed, some notary offices allow for signing of the preliminary sales agreement by private deed signed by the parties in turn following agreement between them. Two other solutions are also possible: electronic signature by private deed or giving power of attorney to a notary who can conclude the initial agreement.

To what extent is electronic signature possible for agreements and reiterations?
The Ministry of Housing is endeavouring to facilitate the implementation of electronic signature where technically possible. Contact the notaries responsible for the transaction to find out if their office has a digital procedure for signing deeds. More and more offices use electronic signature and can therefore enable their clients to complete their real estate project in total security.

Is signature by proxy valid?
Yes, if it is carried out by an employee of a notary office in accordance with the power conferred on them by their clients, or by the notary not establishing the deed. In Paris, for example, the notary representing the vendors, and therefore not the party establishing the deed, may be the proxy holder for the buyers and vendors.

Can a buyer withdraw from a unilateral sale offer or provisional sale agreement signed before 12 March 2020?
Yes, as long as the legal withdrawal period expired as of 12 March 2020, in accordance with the order dated 25 March 2020. The withdrawal period is deferred except in the case of the informed withdrawal of the buyer, which must be indicated in the deed.

Can a vendor go back on their agreement to sell?
Non, as the vendor’s contractual liability would be triggered. They would thus be liable to pay any damages or interest to the beneficiary of the agreement, subject to the grounds invoked under general contract law.

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