Despite the successes of the UK’s vaccine rollout, the outlook for 2021 is still uncertain for most property buyers and sellers. COVID-related conveyancing delays are common, and the impending end of the Stamp Duty holiday on March 31st is increasing the pressure on all parties to complete transactions as fast as possible.
With major bottlenecks in the conveyancing process likely to continue beyond the end of the pandemic, sellers should act now to avoid unnecessary delays once they find a buyer.
Front-loading the legal process
The majority of sellers still choose to instruct a conveyancing solicitor shortly after accepting an offer.
The problem with this approach is that it can add weeks to the conveyancing process, unnecessarily, as a number of time-consuming administrative formalities need to be completed before the legal work can commence.
Canny sellers instruct their conveyancing solicitor before they find a buyer, and often at the same time they start marketing their homes. This way, their solicitor is ready to go as soon as an offer is accepted. In fact, having had an opportunity to fully review the sale, collate any necessary information, and resolve issues before the buyer is found, the solicitor can issue the contract pack to the buyer within days of receipt of an offer.
What, specifically, can be done before I find a buyer?
Before a solicitor can legally act for you, they need to complete identity and money laundering checks. The solicitor can complete these, even if working from home, using third-party ID verification services and a video call.
Thereafter, you will need to complete a number of detailed questionnaires about your property and how you have used it. These sale transaction forms include the TA6 Property information form, the TA7 Leasehold information form (if relevant) and TA10 Fittings and contents form.
The forms are lengthy and can require you to look up information, find documents and certificates, and liaise with your solicitor if you are unsure about anything.
The first thing a buyer’s solicitor will do is send a list of enquiries to your solicitor about the property. This cannot happen until the buyer’s solicitor receives the contract pack containing these completed forms.
Completing and returning these forms without delay is essential. You will also need to find or obtain copies of any documents referred to in the forms, such as warranties and certificates.
Avoiding foreseeable delays
Many of the common delays in the conveyancing process are both predictable and preventable. Chief amongst these delays is the time taken to source management information on leasehold properties.
If you are selling a flat, your solicitor will need to write to the freeholder or managing agent to request information about the management of the property. This pack will include service charge and ground rent accounts, any plans for major works and details of legal covenants.
Even in more ‘normal’ times, acquiring this information can take weeks. Managing agents are now buckling under a barrage of applications. The surge in demand has led to major delays in the sourcing of management information.
When your solicitor reviews your sale, they may spot issues that can be resolved before the buyer is found. For example, missing planning permissions, building regs or an electrical certificate can usually be remedied with an indemnity policy. A forewarned solicitor can identify the correct policy and, preemptively, offer it to the buyer as part of the sale.
Most enquiries raised by buyers’ solicitors are part of a standard protocol. There is no point hoping that an issue won’t be picked up. By far the best policy is to get your solicitor to address any issues, or at least be on the front foot, before the buyer is found.
Completing before the Stamp Duty holiday ends
Although it may still be technically possible for a new cash buyer to complete their purchase before the deadline (likely without searches), many ongoing property sales will not finish before the end of March.
The above steps will ensure that, if there is an extension, the momentum of your sale will be maintained, giving you the best chance of completing sooner. There is no guarantee that an extension will happen, or what shape that reprieve will take, so sellers should make contingency plans.
Ask yourself what missing the deadline could mean for you and your buyer. A recent survey revealed that 70% of purchases in the pipeline are not actually motivated by the stamp duty holiday. However, some purchases may not be financially viable if the transaction overshoots the deadline.
Can your buyer still afford the increased SDLT bill? Are there any compromises that either side could make now (such as a cash buyer forgoing property searches) that could speed up the process? It may be sensible to discuss this with your agent now, so they can get a feel for the buyer’s position before the deadline is imminent.
A return to normality?
Whatever the property market looks like in a few weeks or months, the possibility of a buyers’ market for the foreseeable future means you should do all (frankly everything) you can to make your property as attractive as possible, and reduce delays in the sale process.
It may be that you are reluctant to incur any cost until you know you have a buyer. Most firms work on a fixed fee basis so your legal fees won’t be any higher if you instruct your solicitor earlier in the process. This is to your advantage, as from the day you instruct, you will have an expert advisor on the end of a phone line.
Chris Salmon - Author Bio
Chris Salmon is a co-founder and Director of Quittance Legal Services, a panel of Conveyancing Solicitors in the UK.