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Vendors Beware! Sales taking month longer than usual to complete

Logjams in the mortgage, conveyancing and removal stages of house moving mean sales are taking much longer than usual, according to Rightmove.

The portal, in its latest monthly market snapshot, says there are almost 40 per cent more sales currently on the journey to completion than a year ago. 

“We’re hearing of challenges at all steps of the buying and selling process, including lenders having to deal with a higher number of mortgage applications and solicitors over their capacity” claims Tim Bannister, Rightmove’s director of property data.


“The temporary stamp duty holiday means there’s more urgency than usual for the congestion to be cleared by the end of March, making it vital for buyers and sellers to work closely with their agent and to make sure they’re moving fast to complete a document or answer questions” he continues. 

And he adds: “We’d advise that buyers and sellers factor in at least an extra month for the current delays in the process, if possible, as time is already running short for sales that are agreed now to be completed by Christmas.”

Meanwhile the portal’s regular price index shows that the trend of up-sizing to a larger home has continued at pace over the past month, leading to record asking prices in the second-stepper sector, made up of three- or four-bedroom homes. 

This price record has been fuelled by buyers looking for more space, including both those who need extra space for their families and those looking for room to work from home. 

Overall prices have remained steady since they hit a record in July, up by a marginal 0.2 per cent on the month and up by 5.0 per cent annually - the highest annual growth rate recorded since September 2016. 

Regions outside the South of England have seen the strongest price jumps, with Yorkshire & the Humber, East Midlands, West Midlands, North East, North West and Scotland all at new records.

Rightmove says the demand for larger homes is also reflected in the number of sales being agreed by agents compared to this time last year. 

The strongest sector is ’top of the ladder’, which includes four-bedroom detached homes and larger. Sales agreed, compared with the same period last year, more than doubled in August in this sector, up by 104 per cent. While in the second-stepper sector (three- or four-bedroom homes excluding four-bedroom detached) they were up by 55 per cent. 

The first-time-buyer sector of two bedrooms or fewer, although not as strong as the larger homes sectors, still saw sales agreed up by 36 per cent.

Bannister - speaking own behalf of Rightmove because regular market commentator Miles Shipside is away - says: “Increased competition for second-stepper homes has pushed prices to a record this month for those looking to take the next step up the ladder. Needing more space has always been the most popular reason for moving house, but now there’s a new urgency for extra space to be able to work from home, which means that there are different sets of buyers competing for the same type of property. 

“At the start of the year a fourth bedroom was very much a luxury for buyers trading up, but it’s now emerging as a must-have for those who are able to take that step. 

“With overall asking prices just a few hundred pounds shy of July’s record, and buyer demand at an all-time high, those currently looking for their next home are likely to find that only offers close to the asking price will be considered, especially for larger homes.”

Nationally, sales agreed for the whole year to date are now down by only 5.0 per cent on the same period last year, despite the 2020 lockdown and two regions – the East of England and the South East – have already overtaken the number of sales agreed for the same period last year, helped by higher average prices causing the stamp duty holiday to have more of an impact for buyers and sellers in these areas.

In London, sales agreed for the year to date are down by just three per cent with a two-speed market in play. 

There is strong sales activity in Outer London, especially for top-of-the-ladder homes, while areas like Zone 1 are finding it more challenging, where sales are down by 14 per cent for the whole year to date compared to the same period last year. 

The strong activity in Outer London has helped the capital to climb back to being the second fastest region for the average time taken to secure a buyer, now being beaten only by Scotland at 35 days. 

The average number of days to agree a sale in London is now 49, a significant 20 days shorter than at this time last year. Nationally, the average time to secure a buyer has dropped from 62 days in August 2019 to 53 this August.

  • Rob Hailstone

    “Solicitors over their capacity” rings true. One solicitor I spoke to last week said she had put her fees up by 25%, increased her hours as much as possible, and was still having to turn away work to ensure she could cope.

    It would appear that most solicitor firms have taken their employees off of furlough. Despite this, capacity levels are at breaking point. There just aren’t enough conveyancers or conveyancing solicitors around to meet demand, and finding and training new ones is timely and costly.

    Every time the conveyancer receives an email or call that requires a response, they take themselves away from the work they need to concentrate on. At the moment, if an email isn’t replied to very quickly it then prompts a call, making a bad situation even worse. If I had a builder working in my house and I kept interrupting them, the work would not get done anywhere near as quickly as it should do and my bill would go up. A lose lose situation.

    Controversial suggestion, that I think would help, don’t chase the conveyancer unless you really need to otherwise the vicious circle of delay will continue to get worse. If you do have to chase, give them a reasonable time to respond.

    If you have a close working relation ship with the conveyancer, try to agree with them the best day/time to obtain the information and updates you need.

    Many years ago, I received three calls in a row, within a ten-minute period (from client, broker and then agent), asking why I hadn’t exchanged 10 minutes earlier. You can guess my response.

  • Daniel Hamilton-Charlton

    Well said Rob. This is why Property Searches Direct have set up a Direct to Home mover Search solution, so as to help the conveyancer by taking Search ordering out of their hands and placing it with buyers, vendors and their Estate Agents.
    Conveyancers can make no money on Searches, the administration of taking and spending funds is a burden and they can’t order them straight away.
    Collaboration from all parties will help speed things up. No longer any need to chase the conveyancer asking if they have ordered the Searches yet as the answer can now be, “do it yourself”.
    If everyone plays their part to help, sales pipelines will stand half a chance of meeting timescales.

  • Matt Faizey

    Headline references 'removals' yet article doesn't.

    The only 'jams' for movers come where their poor clients ring up having only been given 2 days in between exchange and completion. Quickly they realise their chosen mover is long since booked.

    Then they go back to the chain to move the date.

    Entire process deeply flawed. It's now that the volumes are properly high the deficiencies / cracks and stupidity becomes glaring and obvious

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    I am somewhat perplexed by a couple of comments made here. I have found that whilst the majority of estate agents are working significantly longer hour, a large number of conveyancers are sticking to 9-5. Whilst agents are more than happy to step up to the plate my experience is that without the ability to chase conveyancers exchanges become disproportionately delayed. I had a somewhat acrimonious email conversation with the senior partner of a solicitors firm regarding the absurd delay in getting searches applied for... I was told that his experience is that his clients baulk at the extortionate cost if searches and therefore prefer to wait until the majority of the legal work is done. With some district councils now taking 7 weeks to provide a search this is clearly unacceptable. The cost of a search from that particular DC is £170! Hardly bank breaking. Your commentator above says solicitors can make no money from applying for searches so make it the Responsibility of the agent...how is it ok for the agent to do their work for them and make no money but a solicitor can’t? It is part of their job to do so. I would not ask a solicitor to do viewings on my stock because I haven’t the time to do them...that is my role! Surely applying for a search is a simple pro-forma letter that take barely minutes to prepare. Solicitors can play their part, for example how many solicitor write a letter to agents asking for a copy of the EPC when we all know they are freely downloadable from the National EPC register, or is that again someone else’s responsibility? If we all worked smarter then this current backlog will eventually clear and all will be back to normal but right now EVERY profession needs to step up to the mark.

  • Daniel Hamilton-Charlton

    Hi Andrew don't be perplexed.

    Let's address a few of your comments.

    Searches are NOT a part of a conveyancers work, it is a job that traditionally they have had to take on as it has been seen as a Dark Art by the industry.

    The reality is that the Searches are paid for by the buyer, the information contained is highly vital to the home buyer and yet ordering them is delayed because the conveyancer has been ordering for them.

    A conveyancer will wish to receive full instructions and signed client care letters, they will wish to take a client through a full ID/AML check before they can even touch taking funds, let alone spending money. They will also wish to request a contract pack and at some point receive one, before they will consider spending their clients money on Searches.

    We are giving the buyers the opportunity to buy them Direct. Use our Hazard Checker service to determine the most appropriate pack, place the order online and start receiving the reports. This shows absolute commitment from the buyer, brings the return of Searches Timescale forward for the conveyancer, and you the estate agent can stop chasing for them.

    We provide Estate Agents with branded literature to email buyers along with the memo of sale to encourage them to take control and order their Searches immediately to avoid delays. What's not to like about that? It's NOT doing the conveyancers job, it's delivering informed choice to the buyer as part of your service. You don't have to order it for them, they do it themselves. YAY!

    I know many Conveyancer who are currently working 7 days a week and very long hours so I would be very mindful of your comments on that front. They may stop answering the phones, but after hours is invariably the only time they can get the lawyering done without people chasing them to see if they are doing the lawyering.

    You have two choices. Be a complaining bystander, see no changes and reap no rewards, or get involved in the parts where you can make an affective difference and help people to move.

    I am a firm believe in a collaborative conveyancing environment where, if you can help to get closer to the goal, you do so. Are you in or out?

  • Rob Hailstone

    I worked many hours behind closed doors and out of hours, and was far mow productive. Did I let the agents kow I was working, of course not, more chasing would ensue, and less work would get done.

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    Unfortunately it embarrasses me as a Conveyancer of forty years experience to say that standards in the profession have never been lower. Some of the efforts I am seeing at the moment that pass for professionalism and customer service are a joke - there have always been bad conveyancers but it pains me to say they are in the majority now which is causing problems in these busy times.
    Untrained, inexperienced, incompetent, and unhelpful people proliferate, none of whom seem to have worked in a busy market before and spend so much time on social media telling people how busy they are there is no wonder they cannot cope. There are very few experienced people like myself left who spent the early noughties working in a far busier environment and that problem will only get worse.
    Not helped by Agents ringing every few miniutes for updates and winding up clients if they do not hear what they wish to. And of course were it not for Agents paying referral fees to those many bad Solicitors that we know hold up the majority of our cases, then everything would be a lot smoother. So I don't really want to hear Agents criticising conveyancers when they have helped to create the monsters that are now devouring everything.

  • icon

    The race to the bottom on fees hasn't helped. Now we're seeing the true effect.

  • icon

    Well said Alan - as usual. Spot on.

    The public don't stand a chance as we constantly see the mediocre outfits posting on forums and on social media how great they are when they are not. How can the public find quality.

    Time for the Govrnment to step in as the various legal regulators are not doing enough to raise the quality of the actual lawyer allowed to touch the file.

  • Angelo  Piccirillo CEO AVRillo

    This might upset some conveyancing lawyers, but not the ones that get it!

    I'll add my bit as former agent and solicitor for some 30 years. I've never seen conveyancing so bad. It's getting slower, with some lawyers having lost the art of picking up the phone and sorting out the problem there and then without having a long email battle over simple things. Arguing for no real reason adds weeks to the already slow transaction.

    As for COVID, yes, of course it has slowed the transaction down. More paperwork to send out, complex scenarios to deal with. That's without all the firms closing, redundancies etc. I've been told Rightmove estimate an extra month on the transaction when it was already close to 5 months!

    It's not easy for agents or lawyers to keep up. I can share what we have done, but we've been brave. We've spent money and recources on engaging the team, keeping them motivated, and committed to getting deals done. This includes looking after their wellbeing and paying good commission rates (not only completing but ensuring they complete with high customer scores).

    Tony (my brother and business partner) each work 20 hours a day, but i don't expect or want them to do this; but my word do they work hard. So far we have not even increased our prices, which most firms do. It means though all my team work hard, long hours but are keeping their reputation for getting the deals done.

    What else have we done? We put more money where our mouth is. We started to recruit new lawyers in May. Over the last 3 months we have taken on 10 experienced conveyancing lawyers. We are bringing on 4 more.

    Fact is, we took the view that we did not spend 22 years on building up AVRillo to see if fall due to current staff not coping with new demands. Yes, less profit, but a firm with an engaged, well paid workforce, and happy agents who get their deals done.

    It's not easy, but if conveyancers are to survive, we must all continue to invest as much as we can in doing a good job now, or face losing business.


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