Why does a conveyancing transaction take so long?

Maisie Bonfield  04-03-2020

The burning question on everyone’s lips is WHAT takes SO long, when buying a house. I have just read an article about how the government want to speed it up, but don’t know how. The blame appears to lie at the conveyancer’s door. You can imagine my indignation. Let me invite you (briefly) into the obscure world of conveyancing…

The buying process is all about knowledge. A conveyancer wants you to know everything you need to know about the property before you commit to, what is usually, the highest value purchase of your life. So we are thorough and careful with your life savings. And I for one, make no apology for that. Here's how it works:

Week one

So your offer is accepted and the agents asks which solicitor you are using. You get some quotes, pick a solicitor and let the agent know. Your solicitor sends you the client care paperwork asking for lots of information, including ID and signed terms of business, and of course, money on account for your searches.

Week two

By mid week you get the paperwork back and provide us with funds. Meanwhile we have written to the seller’s solicitor confirming that we are acting for you and asking for the contract paperwork. This includes the title deeds, contract, property information form and fitting and contents form.

Week three

If we are lucky and the seller is well prepared, we will receive contract papers. If they are not well prepared, this will probably not arrive until week 4.

If the papers are received, AND we have your paperwork, we order the searches and review the remaining paperwork, sending some of it to you to check through.

Now here is the sticking point. The Local Search can take up to THREE weeks to be returned, and at some points of the year, even longer. If you have a lender, then you will have to wait for this search. Even if you don’t we would always recommend you get it anyway, as it covers a lot of vital information (see my other article about conveyancing searches which explains why they are important).

Weeks four and five

We continue regardless of the Local Search, raising any enquiries we have on the title, the forms, and the searches that we do have back (Drainage and Water, Environmental – both generally come back very quickly). We deal with your mortgage offer if you have one, and draft the Transfer Deed which is the legal document transferring ownership upon completion. We hope for replies to our enquiries in week five. We could report to you at this stage.

Week six

Fast forwarding to the return of the Local Search, we can then finalise the report to you to include all of the information received. In some cases we will have already reported in week 5 subject to the Local Authority search and then just update you in week 6 when that comes in. At that point you can sign the Contract, and Transfer, and get us the deposit funds.

Week seven

With the wind in the right direction, no major hiccups in the property searches, and all the paperwork beautifully provided by the seller, you can now exchange.

We then need to request your  mortgage funds in readiness for the completion date. It may amaze you to know that we still have to do this by FAX. Yes, by FAX, remember them? And then the bank takes 5 working days to send us the funds. So you could complete by ....

Week eight


What are the Sticking Points?

Without going into why these are sticking points (as we would be here all day), look out for these as these will set you back in terms of the timescale:

  • Long chains: you will have much less control over the schedule, other people’s mortgages being in place and their moving requirements.
  • Mortgage offer: If this isn’t in place, then of course you can’t proceed. Usually this can run alongside the process, but bear in mind that you can’t rush a bank.
  • Searches at peak times: If the local searches are taking 5 weeks, add 2 weeks in to the above schedule.
  • Building work done: If the property has had work done and the seller hasn’t got the paperwork together, then this will add time. And where you have a lender this MUST be sorted before you can proceed.
  • Building work to be done: If you intend to do building work, and want to get builders, architects or surveyors on site, add in the time to consider this carefully, get costs and check on any planning consents required.
  • Neighbour disputes: This will add time as you need to understand what it was about, whether it has been properly and finally resolved, and you need time to consider whether you want to take this potential risk on.
  • Third party involvement: If your parents are gifting you funds, tell the solicitor early on so that they can ensure your lender is aware, and that they get the necessary paperwork from them.
  • Slow Solicitors: I can’t shy away from this one. They do exist. If you think you have one, then you need to memorise their phone number and befriend their secretary. Stay at the top of their pile. Or call Samuels.
  • Title difficulties: passageways, flying freehold, restrictive covenants, rights of way, restrictions. This is not an exhaustive list, but a flavour of what we look for.

How can I speed things up?

If the following points are sorted, then you could really get the wind in your sails:

  • Mortgage: Get your mortgage offer in place as quickly as possible
  • Find out if the seller is ready: Check with estate agent about whether the seller is ready to go – i.e. instructed their solicitor, completed their Property Information forms. If they haven’t done this, then allow another week at least. In some cases they will have already ordered searches for you, which could save you weeks but, outside of the Home Counties, this is rare.
  • Inform yourself upfront: If building work has been done, find out if the seller has all the right paperwork: planning consents, building regulation certificates, or party wall notices. Your solicitor won’t know any of this until they get the contract papers.
  • Keep in touch with the agent: Ask the agent how long the chain is and make sure you are updated if that changes. And remember, they can deal with your seller directly. Your solicitor cannot.
  • Act quickly: Instruct your solicitor as soon as you can, get your forms back to them, with ID and funds so that they can get going. Tell them what your intentions are for the property, that way we can ensure that we ask all the right questions for you.

So you can see that in reality, your conveyancer acts as a co-ordinator of the puzzle pieces. We can only go as fast as the slowest party involved, whether that be the Local Authority, the lender, the buyer at the bottom of the chain, or the busy conveyancer in the middle. It can be frustrating, but knowledge is power. Arm yourself, and use it to your advantage.

If you would like to speak to Gillian Hibbard to obtain a free conveyancing quote, contact us today.