Why Does Conveyancing Take So Long?

Property Transaction Managing Director Lloyd Davies talked to The Times weekly Property Section – known as Bricks & Mortar – last week about the house buying and selling process, why it takes so long and what could be done to improve it. 

High profile industry voices including Lloyd were asked their opinions on the issues and what could be done. 

Lloyd said he believed the process itself needed attention and that the majority of delays were from information not being available quickly enough for due diligence, adding: The protocols that are currently followed need to be brought up to date to align with digital technology, which is already largely in place. 

He also said he would also like to see a standardised and verified seller’s information pack, backed by a standard conveyancing protocol across the industry. 

The Times reports:

A solicitor shortage and shoddy system mean deals are taking an average of 138.5 days. Here’s how to speed up a sale.

The conveyancing system in England and Wales is on its knees. Lawyers are leaving in droves while homebuyers are left to navigate an archaic moving process that is taking longer than it did at the height of the rush to beat the first stamp duty deadline in June 2021.

Last month, property deals took 138.5 days on average from the time the sale was agreed to reach exchange. In June last year vendors and buyers typically exchanged after 88 days, according to data compiled by View My Chain, an online conveyancing management tool for estate agents.

This is backed up by research from the Landmark Information Group (LIG), a property data company, which shows that in February the average purchase took 135 days from instruction to completion, and a large part of this delay was in the conveyancing, which now takes a record 59 days.

Why is conveyancing taking so long?

It is a direct result of the stamp duty holiday period, which finished in September 2021,” says Simon Bath, chief executive of iPlace Global, a property technology company. “As conveyancers had been swamped in the preceding nine months, many used the run-up to Christmas to take overdue annual leave. When you factor in this period, the knock-on effect meant that many transactions ‘slipped’ into the new year.

The pandemic rush to move exacerbated an existing problem and this proved to be the last straw for some conveyancing lawyers, who are often neither as appreciated nor paid as much as their colleagues in other branches of law.

There is a huge skills shortage. Many are leaving and recruitment efforts are being hampered by the negativity towards the industry” Bath says.

Victoria Mortimer, a partner at Knights law firm and a director of the Conveyancing Association, says: “The pressure put on conveyancing practitioners has been substantial. It has led to a large proportion of conveyancers choosing to leave.

These staff shortages, plus exceptional demand from people moving during the pandemic, have exposed the underlying issues with our buying and selling process. Simon Brown, chief executive of LIG, says transaction processing times have gradually increased over the past 15 years and this is “symptomatic of inefficiencies and slow innovation throughout the home-moving process”.

What can I do to speed up my sale?

If you are in the midst of buying or selling, you cannot wait for the industry to be overhauled, but you can be as proactive as possible. Have all your paperwork, including your mortgage offer, ready; sign papers swiftly; and communicate regularly with your conveyancing lawyer.

Bath recommends having money on account before the process begins, otherwise your conveyancer will not start the process, causing even more delays. Also on his checklist is to provide proof of ID and address, and check and provide your source of funds. If you are purchasing a property on your own, a bank statement or a mortgage offer in principle will do, but if you are getting help from relatives, for example, then they must provide an additional written statement. And don’t forget to apply for buildings insurance; this is a condition of your mortgage that needs to be completed before you take ownership of your home.

How can we improve the buying and selling process?

One of the most popular proposals is the introduction of sellers’ information packs provided when a property is put on the market. In a recent survey of almost 1,100 Bricks & Mortar readers, 31 per cent said that sellers’ information packs should be the industry’s top priority compared with just 19 per cent who prioritised digital conveyancing.

Mortimer says: “[Packs] allow buyers to be more informed when making offers. It also means that as soon as an offer is accepted, the contract pack with all documentation can be sent immediately to the buyers’ conveyancer to start the process of requesting searches and raising property inquiries.

If the seller’s conveyancer has checked the pack is complete before a buyer is found, this can reduce the number of inquiries. Likewise, if it is made available to the buyer’s lender before valuation, it can cut down on the number of post-valuation queries.

 

Most people in the industry believe both the packs and the process need to be digitised. However, Lloyd Davies, managing director of Property Transaction, a law firm, and former operations director of the Conveyancing Association, says it is the process that needs attention. “The majority of delays are from information not being available quickly enough for due diligence purposes. The protocols that are currently followed need to be brought up to date to align with digital technology, which is already largely in place.

He wants to see a standardised seller’s information pack, verified by a conveyancing solicitor. This would be backed by a standard conveyancing protocol across the industry. “At the moment there are several based on who is regulated by whom. The protocol will define timelines and responsibilities,” he says. “The new protocol would include up-to-date digital conveyancing protocols and enhancements to the technical conveyancing process, such as email exchange of contracts and electronic signatures.”

 

Meanwhile, players across the industry have formed the Home Buying and Selling Group, which is government-backed, to find a solution. It is working on an integrated seller’s information pack and an electronic platform to share information between estate agents, conveyancing lawyers, mortgage brokers, surveyors, and buyers and sellers.

Such changes could entice more law students to become conveyancers, and that in turn would make it easier — and quicker — to move house.

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