The Treasury, to its credit, has been listening to those calls and we await a decision on this, but (at the moment) we have to work on the basis that the deadline will not be changed.
That clearly puts us in a stressful position because it would appear there are large numbers of firms working within the process currently basing decisions and processes on a timescale which just isn’t anywhere near reality.
There are many reasons for this – not least the operational pressures we have all been facing – but this is now the time for a reality check and whether you are an agent or a conveyancer, there needs to be an understanding of what is achievable and what isn’t, and you might also want to change what you’re doing in order to give your client the very best chance of completing before March 31 next year.
One area where significant progress can be made is around regulated or authority searches, sellers instructing and receiving them, and those very same searches being accepted by the buyer’s conveyancer.
I hope you have seen the Home Buying & Selling Group’s (HBSG) pledge document which I know many stakeholders, including CA member firms, are following. This is the first step in speeding up the process and the CA firmly believes the next step is for the search information to be obtained much earlier so the seller can be pre-advised of any issue revealed which might impact value or delay the sale.
And to ensure the contract pack includes all the information required by the buyer to proceed and the lender valuer has the true information, rather than valuing based on their assumption.
A growing number of seller’s conveyancers are proactively pushing this forward in the process and getting the seller to pay upfront for the searches. They are then sending those to the buyer’s conveyancer which – if in date – should be accepted.
However, this ‘goes against the grain’ for many firms who will still instruct searches on the buyer’s behalf even when they have the seller’s copies and the information returned will be exactly the same.
To say this can add weeks of delay to the process is a gross understatement and the frustration this can cause – especially during a period when time really is of the essence – is immense. In a very true sense, this is obstructing the process and the arguments that are raised around why their client can’t accept the seller’s searches are completely specious.
We are talking to sellers’ conveyancers about what they can do to change this and we’re aware that firms are being put on ‘blacklists’ if they don’t accept the seller’s searches, with consumers themselves often aghast at why they won’t accept available in-date searches.
I recently talked to a firm about adding information to the Memorandum of Sale which would outline why these searches are permissible and the benefits they can provide to moving a case forward, such as:
1. The firm provides the buyer with as much information as possible before they make their offer where the Local Search information has been provided by the seller.
2. The search is provided by a regulated search agent who complies with the search code which is acceptable to many lenders so you know you are protected by the search provider’s insurance.
3. The search is less than six months old so acceptable to lender requirements.
4. You can of course order your own search but any regulated search provider will use the same data and currently 40% of Local Authorities have a 60-day delay in providing the information to the search companies. This can result in your transaction falling through which clearly would not be in the best interests of any party.
Everyone within the process, particularly conveyancing firms who won’t change their practices, need reminding that, even where they order searches on the day they are instructed by a buyer, delays are being caused.
Reviewing title information and the property information form, with the searches in place, leads to far less conflicting information going to the buyer than if they just report on each document individually without seeing the full picture.
Plus, if buyers’ conveyancers just order searches automatically, they are likely to end up on a very sticky wicket as they risk a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman if it is not in their client’s best interest, and firms of course will be charged £400 to deal with a genuine complaint.
Agents can prep their clients to help them in this area – getting the seller to instruct their conveyancer early (as per the HBSG pledges) means many clients will be provided with their searches with the contract pack to save time.
Those conveyancing firms adopting this process are doing their bit in order to cut down on delays; those firms not accepting the sellers’ searches are doing the exact opposite.
This is obviously irritating for clients and good conveyancers alike. It will also be frustrating for agents wanting to get their clients through to completion before the deadline. Frankly, no stakeholder wants to waste resources dealing with ‘potential’ buyers and sellers, they want proceedable buyers and sellers, those who have seen all the information relating to the property and wish to actively proceed with the sale or purchase of it at the value that information imposes on the property.
Time is not standing still on this and we risk significant numbers of transactions failing if we can’t get some much-needed common sense into this part of the process.
*Beth Rudolf is Director of Delivery at the Conveyancing Association (CA)