It’s that time of year when we start counting down the number of shopping days until Christmas. But as Boris has told shops to shut, we obviously need an alternative.
Given the petrol that Rishi threw on the property market fire by removing Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) for most properties, this year’s countdown is more about getting deals through before the end of next March.
With transactions being delayed and law firms stopping taking on work, it seems the best Christmas present home buyers can look forward to is actually getting the process underway before “It’s a Wonderful Life” appears on TV.
It’s getting quite tricky
The combination of increased transactions and remote working has slowed the time for transactions to go through.
The main bottleneck is the conveyancing process. Local authority searches are taking longer to return and communicating with mortgage lenders is proving difficult. This combined with lawyers working remotely, often with poor technology, has made what is a difficult process at the best of times, even more difficult.
With deals taking longer than the national average of 19 shocking weeks, more will fail.
Here are some steps you can take to increase the chance of your deal going through before the end of March.
Pick the right lawyer
Never has it been more important to pick the lawyer more likely to get your deal over the line. While some people suggest not to use a lawyer recommended by an estate agent, in many cases, this is due to a misunderstanding. While some agents and mortgage brokers are told to recommend lawyers due to the referral fee they receive, this is not always the case.
Always choose a lawyer based on a personal recommendation – comparison websites might seem like a good idea, but they are price-based. They will claim to have “hand-picked” lawyers, but few have consumer ratings on them and think about what type of firm would pay to go on such a site. Conveyancing is not a commoditised product like insurance, so recommendations from friends or trusted advisors are always better.
Check on the responsiveness of the law firm – how are they working and is there anyone to answer the telephone. Obviously, under current conditions, every firm is struggling to deliver the level of service they would like, but some are better than others.
It’s also a good idea to ask whether they are paperless or not. With remote working, the ability of a lawyer to work productively will depend on how efficiently they use technology.
Get yourself ready
Transactions are slowed by sellers taking too long to get started. If you are thinking of selling a property, organise all the paperwork and the forms before you actually find a buyer. By selecting a lawyer as soon as you are on the market, (obviously choose one that isn’t going to charge you in advance) and ask them to send you the paperwork so you can complete it before your buyer is found. This will include forms describing the property, what you are going to keep or sell, as well as your identity checks. If you have had any work done on the property, track down all the paperwork, and if you live in a flat, make sure any letters you have received from the freeholder about potential works are at hand.
By getting organised early, you can reduce the time taken to get to exchange by weeks.
Sensibly keep in touch and answer the questions
One of the problems at the moment is that lawyers are being bombarded by telephone calls. This reduces the amount of time they can spend doing the work, which will slow down the transaction. You will naturally have a lot of questions and concerns, but if you can present these to your lawyer in structured way, and reduce the number of individual calls, this will speed up the process.
For example, when selling a property, the buyer will ask lots of questions that your lawyer cannot answer and will pass them on to you. By going back to your lawyer quickly and with all the answers in one go, this will reduce the time involved.
Check paperwork carefully
Finally, one of the major causes of delay are issues with documentation. It has never been more important to check information on forms, mortgage offers and about the property is correct.
Naturally, you will feel it is the lawyer’s job to get this right first time, every time, but realistically, mistakes do occur and by spotting problems quickly, and working together with your lawyer will reduce time. In particular, mistakes in names or missing details on mortgage offers can delay the process for weeks – keep a close eye on these.
Buying a property at any time is challenging. However, at the moment, with increased pressures to complete before the end of March and the high caseloads lawyers are experiencing, it’s made even more difficult.
By taking a few steps to select the right lawyer, get yourself ready and communicate more efficiently, will greatly increase your chances of beating the Rishi deadline. And lead to a much happier, if, as Boris would suggest, more unconventional, Christmas.
Guest blog by The Partnership, an award winning law firm offering specialist residential conveyancing services.