People should stop plans to exchange house contracts or rent somewhere new, cabinet minister Michael Gove has said.
Potential buyers have already been cancelling viewings with estate agents, while mortgage lenders including Barclays are limiting their lending.
Gove said: “If it is possible, pause.
“There will be specific circumstances where moving down that chain, the process that will mean buying or selling homes.
“But one of the things I would stress, if at all possible, people should stay in their current homes.”
Following the comments conveyancing members have asked for clarification on the status of ongoing residential transactions.
Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said: “Michael Gove said yesterday that if transactions have been committed to, they should go ahead. He also said that people should, if at all possible, seek to stay in their current home.
“If you are acting for someone who has exchanged contracts and has a completion date within the next few days, and you, your client and the other side are able to proceed, there is currently no government guidance to prevent you doing so.
“This is, of course, subject to following current guidelines in respect of public health: properties not being occupied with cases, or suspected cases of, Covid-19, occupants not being in a state of isolation, and all parties abiding to social distancing requirements.
“We are seeking further clarity from government and will monitor closely as the situation develops. We are hoping for official guidance to be published in the next few days.”
Iain McKenzie, chief executive of The Guild of Property Professionals, said: “It makes perfect sense, in that, the stricter we are with adhering to the measurements put in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the better.
“However, it is good that the government has recognised that where there are contractual obligations that are unavoidable, people can move provided they follow the necessary health precautions.
“In the case where there is no contractual obligation, parties will need to be in contact with their estate agent or letting agent and negotiate an extension.”