Why Does House Conveyancing Take So Long?

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For most homebuyers and sellers in the UK, going through the conveyancing process can feel like an excruciatingly slow and painful experience. From the moment an offer is accepted on a property to the day you finally get the keys, conveyancing can drag on for weeks or even months. This leaves many people frustrated and asking the question – why does house conveyancing take so long?

There are several reasons why conveyancing transactions tend to proceed at a snail’s pace. The legal processes involved are complex, the UK property market is incredibly busy, and the number of different parties and documents required means there are always delays and hold-ups. However, understanding why delays happen and the key steps involved can help buyers and sellers understand what to expect and avoid unnecessary delays where possible.

The Key Stages of Conveyancing

To understand why conveyancing takes time, it’s important to first understand the key stages involved:

  • Searches and enquiries – The buyer’s solicitor must conduct numerous searches and raise enquiries with the seller’s solicitor to investigate the property and understand any potential risks or issues. This includes local authority searches, environmental searches, drainage searches, and more. Replies can take weeks to come back.
  • Mortgage offer – Most buyers will need a mortgage offer before proceeding, and it can take time for lenders to provide these after assessing income, and credit scores and conducting valuations.
  • Signing contracts – Once replies to enquiries are back, the draft contract can be prepared, but both parties will need time to read through the contract before signing.
  • Transfer of funds – On completion day, funds need to be transferred between various parties, including the buyer, seller, mortgage lender and solicitors. This complex web of transfers relies on excellent organisation and timing.
  • Registration – Once complete, the buyer’s solicitor must register the buyer’s ownership with the Land Registry. This can take several weeks depending on workloads.

As you can see, there are many intricate steps involved, each relying on multiple parties. Delays at any point can slow the whole process down.

Reasons for Delay

So why exactly do these key steps often get delayed? Here are some of the most common hold-ups:

  • Backlogs with local authorities – Councils often have long backlogs for responding to search enquiries due to limited resources. It’s not uncommon to wait 6-8 weeks for some replies.
  • Issues raised in searches – Sometimes searches reveal potential problems like lack of planning permission or drainage problems. These issues then need resolving with the seller which can cause delay.
  • Mortgage offer delays – If the buyer’s lender is slow to produce the mortgage offer, it puts the brakes on the transaction until the offer is received.
  • Complex chains – If there are multiple buyers and sellers involved in a chain, it only takes one delay for the whole chain to grind to a halt.
  • Inefficient solicitors – Some solicitors have huge workloads and administration problems. This can cause delays in requesting searches, answering enquiries and turning around contracts.
  • Errors in paperwork – When information supplied has errors, for example, incorrect property measurements, it can mean documents have to be redone.
  • Holidays and illness – If any of the key parties involved goes on holiday or is off sick, it can bring the transaction to a standstill.
  • Disputes – Sometimes there are disputes between buyer and seller over fixtures, fittings, repairs, or claims. Resolving these can add weeks or months.

As you can see, the conveyancing process is at the mercy of so many external factors. Even relatively straightforward transactions can hit multiple delays. However, there are ways buyers and sellers can try to speed up the process…

How to Speed Up Conveyancing?

For buyers and sellers eager to move faster, here are some tips that may help:

For Sellers:

  • Instruct your solicitor promptly – This gets the legal process moving early. you can instruct a solicitor as soon as you have an offer accepted.
  • Organise EPC certificates early – Your buyer’s solicitor will request this, so get it booked immediately to avoid delay.
  • Respond to enquiries quickly – When the buyer’s queries come in, turn around replies the same day where possible.
  • Chase searches yourself – Don’t just leave it to your solicitor. You can also call search companies directly to check on progress.
  • Prepare property information pack – Gather together documents like warranties, planning permissions, and receipts. Buyer’s solicitors love this.

For Buyers:

  • Get your mortgage AIP – Talk to a broker and get your Agreement in Principle secured before making offers, so the lender is ready to go.
  • Appoint your solicitor ASAP – Again, this gets things moving quickly from the start.
  • Send ID and funds upfront – Solicitors can begin work as soon as they have your ID and funds, so don’t delay this.
  • Chase your lender – Stay on top of your lender if it looks like they are dragging their feet in providing the mortgage offer.
  • Use a conveyancer – Some believe specialist conveyancers have fewer backlogs than traditional solicitors.
  • Apply pressure – Politely request updates from all parties. This shows you are eager to progress.

While following the above tips could potentially help speed things up, sometimes delays are unavoidable. In these cases, patience and understanding are key!

Does Using a Conveyancing Firm Make it Faster?

Some buyers and sellers believe using a specialist conveyancing firm rather than a traditional high street solicitor can help speed up the buying/selling process. There are advantages and disadvantages to consider.

Potential advantages include:

  • Lower caseloads – Conveyancers specialise in property transactions, so may have smaller workloads.
  • Latest technology – They invest in the latest systems and software to be more efficient.
  • Greater availability – They will have dedicated teams just focusing on conveyancing.

However, there are also some potential disadvantages:

  • Less experience – High-street solicitors have vast legal experience that conveyancers may lack.
  • Lack of wider services – Solicitors can assist with many related services like wills and probate.
  • Possible delays anyway – Conveyancers rely on the same searches and external parties.
  • Costs – Conveyancing firms sometimes charge higher fees than traditional solicitors.

There are good and bad conveyancing firms, as with solicitors, so do your research. Look at reviews and recommendations and ask about their workload, staffing and tech capabilities to gauge speed. Meet with them to evaluate their experience with complex cases. Get free quotes in writing too.

There is no guarantee using a conveyancer will make it faster, but it’s certainly an option to consider if speed is your priority.

How Technology is Improving Conveyancing Times?

As technology improves, there are new innovations occurring that aim to streamline and speed up the conveyancing process:

  • Online platforms – These let buyers, sellers and solicitors securely share documents and track progress.
  • Blockchain – Cryptographic tech is being used to instantly verify identities and ownership.
  • AI review – Machine learning helps instantly assess documents for errors.
  • Digital signatures – Allows faster signing and exchange of contracts and forms.
  • Automated updates – Texts and emails automatically update parties when progress is made.

Adoption of such technologies is still in relatively early stages, but conveyancing times should improve as uptake increases. However, the numerous external parties and red tape involved means we are still a long way off an overnight, seamless conveyancing experience.

How Long Should Conveyancing Take?

There are recommendations for how long the average conveyancing transaction should take:

  • Uncomplicated transactions with no chain – Ideally 8 to 12 weeks
  • Chains with first-time buyers – Around 12 to 16 weeks
  • Chains including new mortgages – 14 to 20 weeks
  • Chains with first-time buyers and mortgages – 16 to 24 weeks.

However, this is only a rough guide. In reality, conveyancing can take anywhere from 8 weeks to 12+ months in extreme cases. A huge amount depends on the systems and workload of your chosen conveyancer/solicitor and how smoothly the chain progresses.

Be prepared that buying or selling a home will mean an administrative marathon, not a sprint. Avoid unrealistic expectations around timing. Take comfort that conveyancers want to help progress transactions as swiftly as the complex processes allow. ‘We buy any property’ companies can help speed up the process when buying your property.

Conclusion

While no one wants to endure an unnecessarily lengthy conveyancing process, buyers and sellers must be pragmatic that legal property transactions do naturally take time. There are so many intricate stages and external parties involved, that delays are inevitable. However, understanding the key steps and using conveyancers who have the capacity, strong organisation and technology can certainly help.

Conveyancing delays can be immensely frustrating, but try to go in with patience and realistic expectations. Remember that your solicitor or conveyancer wants your transaction to proceed smoothly just as much as you do. Trust their experience in getting thousands of transactions across the line, albeit often slower than any of us would like!

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