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By Emma Vigus

Managing Director, mio


Property transaction delays - where ARE the searches?

Delays with the return of property searches is one key factor for sales taking longer to complete.

As conveyancers start to warn home movers that completion before the end of the stamp duty holiday may be unrealistic, below is a summary of the current position.

How do I get an update on local authority turnaround times?


Estate agents using mio are automatically updated on the status of searches for any property where the searches are ordered through tmgroup or Conveyancing Data Services.

These automatic updates will apply to around 20% of all residential property transactions. Buyers and sellers using the mio consumer app will also be notified, which saves agents valuable time in managing and replying to update requests.

Local conveyancers will be able to provide an update on the turnaround times for searches, but it may be quicker to refer to the online report, hosted by tmgroup. The mio client services team can also provide detailed updates on turnaround times for specific local authorities.

Which local authorities are slowest?

At the time of writing, 36, or around 8%, of local authorities (LAs) were reporting significant delays in returning searches with published turnaround times for all of these LAs currently exceeding 26 working days.

A further 29 LAs are also publishing turnaround times of 25 working days or more, but have yet to proactively report significant delays.

It is important to note that there can be a variance between published turnaround times and actual turnaround times. Taking Bedford Council (Residential) as an example – their published turnaround time is currently 12 working days. Their actual turnaround time, as measured by tmgroup, over the past six weeks is nine working days.

The majority of LAs produce searches faster than their published turnaround time with, at the time of writing, only 6% of LAs failing to deliver in line with published timelines.

Reasons given for delays include; a cyber attack resulting in temporary suspension of services with no date given for resumption, and a major IT upgrade leading to a suspension of services from  November 12 until December 8.

The slowest local authorities are currently Dorset, Hackney, South Kesteven, Stratford Upon Avon and West Berkshire – all of whom are quoting timescales in excess of six weeks.

The best performing LAs, all of whom have published turn around times of five working days, or less, are Bolton, Bromley, Crawley, Dartford, Lambeth, North Devon and Wakefield.

Some LAs do offer an accelerated service but, at the time of writing, this was under 10% of all LAs and the majority of those that do offer it will charge for it.

It is ironic that homemovers may not be able to benefit from the stamp duty holiday, granted by the government, when one of the factors that could prevent them benefitting rests with a non-ministerial government department to resolve, namely HM Land Registry (HMLR).

Whilst a blog published by HMLR in February 2019 refers to a process that started in the 1980s to start scanning existing forms and records, it is clear that the “200 expert people - including tech leads, developers, delivery managers, service and content designers and user researchers” deployed by HMLR have some way to go before they deliver the long awaited ‘Digital Register’. Some 18 of the UK’s local authorities are still returning searches by post!

How can agents speed the process up?

Ensure that buyers instruct their conveyancer and pay for their searches as soon as their offer is accepted. Advise any potential purchasers viewing properties to select their conveyancer before they make an offer. This will ensure they can act quickly once they’ve had an offer accepted.

It’s also a good opportunity for you to refer buyers to a trusted conveyancer who provides an efficient service.

If you’re working with a panel of local law firms, and successfully referring both buyers and sellers to those firms, you may be able to encourage law firms acting for purchasers to accept searches ordered by the seller when a property is listed.

This can save a lot of time, but not all law firms will be willing to accept searches ordered by another law firm. Furthermore, if the property takes a long time to sell, searches may need to be refreshed or re-ordered once a buyer is found.

Conveyancers acting for purchasers should also take a flexible approach to the search products and providers they use, deploying the fastest solution available, and should, where appropriate, deploy search delay insurance products, which are usually available, when placing the order for Searches,  for a small additional charge.

*Emma Vigus is Executive Director of leading provider of property searches, tmgroup, and Managing Director of mio

  • David Gibbs

    Greenwich Council are taking 10-12 weeks. A bloody shambles!!

  • Daniel Hamilton-Charlton

    If you want to know about all the council areas join our mailing list.
    Subscribe if you want the update data every Tuesday.
    Have we not been saying this for months now? Buyers can buy searches direct. DON'T give money to the conveyancer, they will not be able to order searches as quickly as the home mover can by coming direct.
    If you really want to turbo charge your sales, get your vendors to buy them so that the orders are in the queues already.

  • Daniel Hamilton-Charlton

    IF a buyer instructs a conveyancer and pays for their searches that does not mean that the searches will be ordered. Stop encouraging clients to leave the search ordering to the legal community. Only last week we had an order from a buyer who said that their solicitor refused to order them an environmental report, so came direct!! They are glad that they did.
    To speed up transaction, stuff needs to actually change, just reporting on the status quo does not make it go quicker!


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