One of the country’s top buying agents is advising purchasers and vendors to avoid online agencies and 'bucketshop' conveyancers.
Edward Heaton - founder and managing partner of buying agency Heaton & Partners - says onliners are one major reason why many transactions fall through.
“In my opinion online estate agents who charge up front fees for their services simply don’t have the motivation to get properly involved in following chains and successfully seeing transactions to their natural conclusion. Many of these online agents also lack proper industry experience” explains Heaton.
“High street agents are not without their faults, but at least they will generally work hard to make a deal happen and there is usually someone in the office who has some decent experience” he continues.
Heaton says he knows of the risks of fall-throughs at first hand as he recently had to sell his mother’s home.
“The problem was exacerbated by the fact that one of the law firms was an online ‘bucket shop’ conveyancer. They go through a tick box exercise and if there is anything out of the ordinary with the property, they often don’t deal with it properly” he notes.
“With a traditional firm of solicitors there is normally a partner who will get involved with anything complicated or out of the ordinary and be able to give sensible advice.”
Heaton - one of the country’s highest profile buying agents - says: “Essentially, if you are a seller or buyer wanting the process to go smoothly and quickly, my advice would be to use a traditional high street estate agent as there will always be someone to help you navigate problems that may arise.
“Likewise, I would suggest using a proper solicitor so that you have a partner-led service rather than the ‘bucketshop’ conveyancing experience. The reality is that chains are complex and things often do go wrong at some point. As with all things in life, you pay for what you get.
“There seems to be a race to the bottom with ever cheaper fees for both conveyancing and estate agency. This fundamentally ends up with buyers and sellers not getting the advice and support which they inevitably do need in the process.”
He says some 67 per cent of sales are part of a chain and around one in three fall through before completion.
His own experience selling his mother’s home involved him being at the top of a five link chain in West Berkshire.
The sale of his mother’s property was agreed in July but the person at the bottom of the chain, a first time buyer, had been waiting to buy the flat at the beginning of the chain since October 2019.
Heaton continues: “By [last month] all parties in the chain thought they were ready to exchange contracts, but it then transpired that the first-time buyer needed new local authority searches as they were out of date, which would have meant another 45 day delay.
“The first-time buyer had been waiting so long to buy the flat that she had needed to obtain a new mortgage offer as her original one had expired. Sadly her solicitor failed to pick up on the need for new searches until the very last minute.
“If we had waited the 45 days for new searches to come back, the mortgage offers of other buyers in the chain would have expired so they would have needed to make completely new mortgage applications. It looked like we were facing a never ending cycle of delays, so we decided to buy the flat at the start of the chain to enable the rest of the chain to get moving.”
Heaton plans to sell the flat to the existing first time buyer on the same terms they originally agreed and he is now waiting the 45 days for the searches to come back.
He concludes: “The fact the chain ever found itself in this position is down to a combination poor communication, a lack of experience and general disinterest from some of those involved in the chain. This is increasingly common scenario and is down to two elements, one being online estate agents and the other bucket-shop conveyancers.”