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The nine week wait: sales fall through because of slow searches

Estate agents are angry over delays in processing land searches by a local authority in the south west.

The average land search time by West Dorset district council is a massive 45 working days whereas other search authorities within Dorset take an average of just four to 12 days - with most achieving four or five working days.

The local authority, in a statement to Estate Agent Today, says short term staff are being recruited and long term digitisation of the process will be completed by 2019.


However, agents say they are losing business now and suggest some people are refusing to move into the area because of the delays. 

Mark Meyer of Meyers Estates told the BBC that the delays, going on more than two years, are causing "chaos" in the local housing market with sales falling through and chains collapsing.

"Some people just won't buy in our area because of this. It's wrecking lives and the stress it causes is very severe to some people. It makes people ill" he says.

The BBC cites the local council as saying 248 requests for property information were received last month but more than 450 remain outstanding.

Mark Parker of Parkers Estates is quoted as saying the council had told agents some data was still stored on microfiche, making it more time-consuming to access.

He describes the delay as "embarrassing for the area".

The BBC story cites a case study, Paul Rickman, who is buying and selling in Bridport. He applied for searches on his own home before putting it on the market but is now waiting for searches on the property he is buying.

“Our buyer has had to move into her mother's house and our new house is ready. We are in limbo. I run a small business and if we ran it like they do, we wouldn't be trading" he says.


Councillor Peter Barrowcliff, West Dorset district council’s corporate portfolio holder, told EAT: “We continue to process a high number of land charge requests in West Dorset. We understand it can be frustrating for those waiting for these to be processed.

“We are continuing to work to improve the situation and have an action plan in place, which sets out a range of improvements to be completed by 2019. Part of this involves moving towards a digital and automated approach to processing searches.

“We continue to allocate additional resource to help control the situation in the short term. Two additional staff will be joining the service within the next month with a view to further improve resilience and make it less vulnerable to periods of leave and peak time work.

“It was always recognised that it would take time to deliver an effective long term solution to the challenges faced by the land charges service. The continuing amount of resource being allocated by the council is clear evidence of its commitment to secure an effective resolution to this issue.”

  • jeremy clarke

    Isn't it just a matter of communicating the issue to sellers at the point of instruction and advising them to get solicitors to put searches in hand? If a property is correctly priced it should go under offer during that period between applying for and receiving the searches and once a "sale" is confirmed the search process is quite advanced or already completed and can be sold on to the buyer's solicitor.

  • Nick Small

    Jeremy, That is what should happen but it seldom does. The solution is to use a personal search company such as PALI. When we started in business in 1999 it was common for local authorities to take twelve weeks to provide searches. Sixteen weeks in the summer holiday period. This is why we started our business. As there was no competition, local authorities just did not care. We gave them competition and times and prices came down and a lot of councils got their act together but some, and a lot in Wales, don't care and still use "T" cards as records. As an example, Newcastle Staffs say it takes over six hours to collate the data for a search on a commercial property but our guy can make a half hour appointment and do six. In the Google age this is not even a joke. Imagine if councils sold houses. Support private industry. Use PALI. (Property And Land Information.

  • icon

    85% of local authorities take up to five working days to process an official search. That's fact. What this article fails to do is mention the amount of phonecalls that a local authority receives weekly from the buyer who has been informed that their solicitor is waiting on the search from the local authority. Turns out that the LA sent the official search back 2/3 weeks ago - and in fact what is happening is that the solicitor sits on the searches until the last minute. Time and time again this happens. The LA gets the blame when it turns out the solicitor is just biding their time - or the search agent came in and did the search a couple of weeks ago but has yet to provide the searches to the solicitor. Yes the solicitor tells the buyer that the LA are taking ages to process the search! Don't tarnish all LAs with the same brush. Many LAs turn searches around extremely quickly. Its a small number that don't and the reasons for that is due to staff shortages.


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