With large numbers of homes expected to change hands over the coming 12–18 months, Susie Rogers and Wilson Tang consider what housing providers need to do to factor the current COVID-19 pandemic into their planning process.
We all understand the difficulties and logistics of viewing stock at the moment, particularly internal inspections. But what else should project teams be aware of? We have closed several stock transfer deals during lockdown—including when restrictions were at their most stringent. To help you learn to adapt your business to the current situation, and develop the best ways to keep staff and residents protected, we have come up with some key points that you will want to consider if progressing a portfolio transaction.
- Consultation: Consultation with residents is still required, and careful thought will need to go into ensuring that the views of tenants are properly canvassed. Digital sessions will be a great solution for some residents, although posting information packs, and welcoming responses in the post, may a better solution for some client groups. Pay particular attention to residents who need additional support in order to engage fully with the consultation process so that their voices are still heard.
- Timescales: It has become standard to include contractual provisions that delay completion, if necessary, because of issues linked to the pandemic (for example, if there is an outbreak amongst residents; if works being carried out at the property are delayed; or if signatories are not available). Make sure you plan for this eventuality, as well as allowing additional time throughout the project for delays in the event that, for example, key project team members are absent.
- Repairs and maintenance: Responsibility to maintain the homes transfers to the buyer on completion. All parties will want to be assured that, from completion, the buyer’s repairs and maintenance team/contractor is ready and able to assume that responsibility, bearing in mind any local or national lockdowns or other restrictions affecting operations.
- Engagement with third parties: Particularly when dealing with local authorities, bear in mind that processing times are significantly increased at the moment, particularly where documentation needs to be found and access to offices has been restricted. Local search results, which were starting to get back to normal, have now been affected by local lockdowns and the move back towards homeworking. Make sure that additional time is factored into your program to obtain the information needed, so that bit prices can be relied upon.
- Valuations: At present, valuation inspections are still largely external only. If you are acquiring or disposing of stock, it is worth appointing valuers who are familiar with the units. Material uncertainty clauses are no longer included as standard in valuation reports, and EUV-SH valuations are expected to remain relatively stable, but some valuers are predicting falls of up to 10% in open market valuations.
- Health and safety information: At a time where there is increasing emphasis on health and safety, bear in mind that there may have been delays in carrying out inspections (e.g. gas inspections). Most registered providers (RPs) have this well under control, and so it should not be an issue, but familiarise yourself with the regulator’s viewpoint on delayed certification and ensure that stock is compliant.
- Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs): Sellers have a statutory duty to provide EPCs to buyers, but this can be problematic at the moment as some residents are reluctant to permit access to their homes. We have worked with sellers and buyers to reach a mutually acceptable position in exactly these circumstances.
The implications of the current pandemic are far reaching, and we have been told to expect to face restrictions for at least a further six months. This makes the planning stages of large projects even more important than ever as teams hope for the best, but stress test those plans robustly.