The government has put the brakes on the housing market until the coronavirus restrictions are over, telling people to delay their home moves if possible and not to allow new viewings.
In new guidance, the government said it was urging buyers and sellers to “adapt and be flexible” by agreeing new moving dates.
It said there was no need to pull out of transactions but both parties should try to agree a new date unless the property is empty.
“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 will no longer be in place,” the guidance said.
It said banks have agreed that mortgage offers should be extended where delay to completions takes place.
For those looking to sell, it said there “should be no visitors to your home” for viewings or valuations although people are allowed to speak to estate agents over the phone and conduct virtual viewings.
Renters have also been advised not to move by the government, which also banned any evictions for the next three months from Friday in England and Wales.
Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, said the courts will suspend all ongoing housing possession action for private and social tenants as well as homeowners facing action from mortgage holders.
It comes after Labour said it had received evidence of rising evictions going through the system, even though the government said landlords would not be able to start new proceedings for three months.
Jenrick said neither cases currently in the system nor any about to go into it could progress to the stage where someone could be evicted.
The suspension of housing possessions action will last for 90 days, but this can be extended if needed.
The government stressed that tenants are still liable for their rent and should try to agree a payment plan with landlords if they are struggling.
Owners will also be covered by a three-month mortgage payment holiday where they have buy-to-let mortgages, the government said.
Shelter, the housing charity, said it would give “much-needed protection for renters at this critical time” and Jenrick “should take a lot of credit for having listened and taken further action – as a result many thousands of people can now stay safe in their homes”.
Before the U-turn, Shelter had warned that 20,000 evictions were going through the system and people were likely to be left homeless while ill or trying to isolate because of vulnerabilities.
Critics also pointed out that the government’s emergency legislation only extended the notice required for possession from two months to three.