We can all agree that the recovery of the property market since May has been outstanding. The latest data from Zoopla declares that the market has experienced its busiest ever autumn, with 140,000 more buyers waiting to complete transactions in comparison to this time last year.
One of the main drivers of this unprecedented activity is the stamp duty holiday, announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in July and set to run until March 31 2021.
But this is where things get more difficult and unanimous agreements are harder to come by. Despite the positive impact of the tax cut, it has also brought about several problems for property professionals to deal with.
In recent weeks, there has been increasing concern from within the industry that we are moving towards a cliff-edge and buyers will miss out on the stamp duty holiday.
According to Legal & General Mortgage Club, those looking to benefit from the stamp duty holiday should have started their moving process by now as transactions could take up to 17 weeks (not taking into account Christmas and the impact of further lockdowns). Inevitably, this has led to increased calls for the stamp duty holiday to be extended beyond its current deadline.
It's no secret that conveyancers are struggling to deal with the sheer number of transactions going through at the moment. This is leading to a backlog and significant delays which then become the problem of estate agents.
Understandably, agents want to get the deals done as quickly as possible so that their clients are happy and they receive the income they need to keep their businesses going. However, it appears the additional pressure agents are feeling is being pushed back to conveyancers, so much so that three key bodies published a joint statement asking agents to be patient and understand that transactions are going to take longer than usual.
The relationship between agents and conveyancers has felt more fraught in recent weeks, but professionals need to work together despite the pressures.
Of course, there is no definitive solution to this issue. Therefore, it’s time for agents to think about what parts of the process they can control and how it can help to speed up transactions for their clients.
High pressure leads to frustrations and distractions
Under significant pressure, The Society of Licensed Conveyancers, the Bold Legal Group and the Conveyancing Association recently came together to issue a joint statement highlighting the issues they are facing.
The majority of problems causing delays at the moment are out of an agent's control, and many of them – such as the impact of Covid-19 on local authorities - are also out of the conveyancer's control. This leads to frustration which is obviously not productive.
Since the market reopened, conveyancers have been dealing with many of the same issues as agents - making offices safe, managing furloughed staff or even redundancies, and incorporating working from home into their business models.
The associations have warned against frantic chasing as it is distracting and can cause further delays. Taking this on board, agents and conveyancers need to come together and work on solutions to long-standing problems.
Take the lead with upfront information
It is the opinion of many industry stakeholders that if buyers and sellers work harder to prepare more upfront information, transactions can be quicker and more efficient.
This is part of the process of which an agent can take the lead, assume control and help their clients to reach their goal.
For example, agents can encourage vendors to order searches as soon as they go to market and remind buyers that they can order theirs immediately after their sale has been agreed.
In the future, innovations such as reservation agreements and property logbooks could help to speed things up. For now, however, agents should focus on educating consumers about the information they need to provide and making sure they have it ready well in advance.
There is much talk that technology will be the answer to speeding up the conveyancing process. While there may be some truth in this, when it comes the agent's role in a transaction, good communication, being proactive and focusing on solutions rather than problems remains invaluable.
Managing expectations goes a long way
A simple but effective approach. The statement from the conveyancing bodies was their way of trying to manage the expectations of agents. In the same way, it's important for agents to do the same with consumers, especially as we remain in uncertain and unconventional times.
One of the most effective things agents can do is explain the context of the stamp duty holiday to buyers and sellers. While there may be a temptation to only talk about the positives of the tax cut, it will be more rewarding in the long-run to explain that there are likely to be delays and that although the deadline isn't until March, consumers need to act swiftly if they want to benefit.
Consumers are likely to be sympathetic to the impact of the pandemic on transactions. If you explain to them why transactions are delayed, they are more likely to understand that many of the problems they are facing are out of the agent's control.
With regular updates and clear timelines, even if things are moving slowly, consumers know where they stand. If agents feel less pressure from their clients, they will be less likely to put pressure on conveyancers – this will go a long way to improving professional relations and making things more efficient at a challenging time.
Moreover, it’s important to consider what your buyers and sellers know about the conveyancing process. Provide them with information on delayed completions and a full explanation of the conveyancing process - you can see Move iQ's guides here.
The more consumers know about the process, the more they can get to grips with what is going on at the moment, how it affects them and what they can do to keep things moving.
As I wrote at the start of this piece, there is no definitive answer on how to speed up transactions. However, as we continue to navigate unusual and highly pressurised times, it's important to focus on what you can control and appreciate the challenges all parts of the industry are facing.
*Phil Spencer is a presenter, author, businessman and property investor. Phil’s consumer advice platform Move iQ, is a website, YouTube channel and podcast. Each preserve and reflect the same impartiality that consumers trust and base their property moving plans. Coming soon: Move iQ Pro, Phil’s resource to support the property community. Stay tuned ready for launch – sign-up here.