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By Beth Rudolf

Director of Delivery, Conveyancing Association

OTHER FEATURES

Upfront property information – we need to stop ‘going round the houses’

At a recent Conveyancing Association webinar focused on the provision of upfront information in the property sale process, there was a telling comment made which perhaps underlines what could be done, what should be done and where we currently are: “We have been talking about this for a very long time.”

No-one involved in property could really deny that truism. Some may believe we have been round the houses, so to speak, on this particular issue more times than we would care for.

At various points, over the past couple of decades, it was possible to see progress made but we’ve never been able to get to the point where all those stakeholders required for its support, were able to buy in and deliver.

Until now? That’s not a statement but a question to the entire industry, because while we believe there is greater momentum towards take-up and change than there has been for quite some time, it is still going to take a real collective effort in order to prove the concept’s worth and to ensure it can deliver what we would wish it to.

Estate agents, of course, are at the heart of this – indeed, large numbers of agents are already working with conveyancing firms on the provision of upfront information which ultimately leads to far quicker transaction times. But this is not happening right across the market and therefore the benefits can’t possibly be for all.

So, where are we currently? Well, the Home Buying & Selling Group have two separate streams of work. Regular readers of this column will know about the work undertaken on the BASPI (Buying & Selling Property Information form), that is still in preparation for pilot, however the second stream may deliver far quicker returns.

The Group are considering which proposals to include in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining what actions all parties could take in order to provide and process the upfront information and to be able to get the very most efficiencies out of it.

The reason this offers greater hope is that virtually all of the proposals are already backed up by solid data as to their potential impact, and some of it might surprise you.

For example, it is suggested that the seller’s conveyancer should order the Local Search and Drainage and Water search. Most conveyancers, frankly, wouldn’t see the point. After all, the published time for the delivery of these searches is routinely under 10 days so how could that speed up the process?

However, once you delve deeper it gets more interesting. ViewMyChain data shows that, whilst search returns might indeed be 10 days on average, the actual search order does not take place until almost seven weeks into the process.

Now, once you add in the two weeks for it to come back and then the, on average, three weeks it takes to process a post-valuation query necessitated by the information in the Local Search result, well now you could be up to 12 weeks into the process. The LPE1 is a similar story, even once paid for, the average return time, based on data from tens of thousands of transactions, is 54 days.

Even just instructing a conveyancer on average takes 28 days, unless you have a digital on-boarding system which can cut that down to around eight days.

You get my point; if you can start work on all of those processes in the period between the property going on the market and a buyer being found you can make huge efficiencies in the process.

In Northern Ireland where they signed up to a MOU in 2018/19, they cut transaction times from 20 weeks to eight. A NAEA transaction reform trial along similar lines had an average of seven weeks for a transaction and we can also look to the example of our auction market where 22,000 properties are sold every year on the drop of a hammer.

In Scotland, they instruct solicitors on listing, provide the property information form and home report upfront and routinely have six to eight-week transaction times and only 11% fall-through rate compared to 34% in England.

And one final bit of data for you, reducing the transaction time by 12 weeks means that your revenue increases by 232% and your profits increase by at least 10%, simply taking out 12 weeks of chain chasing.

Whether you are the seller’s agent or their lawyer, the buyer’s lawyer or adviser or surveyor/valuer, whether you are the seller or the buyer yourself, there is a role to be played, responsibilities to be fulfilled and benefits to be accrued.

What does that mean for the vendor’s agent? Well, it means starting the legal process at listing and obtaining the information from the seller to complete all the CPR material facts disclosure.

It means asking the seller to produce gas safety certificates and the EPC; it means asking the seller to instruct their property lawyer immediately; it means sending all the sales particulars to those others listed above; it means qualifying potential buyers through a mortgage DIP or evidence/source of funds; and it means providing chain details with the memorandum of sale.

And for those who say it’s still too difficult to deliver or you won’t get the buy-in? We say we are not trying to reinvent the wheel here – for the most part we are dealing with an analogue process and simply asking for a reordering of the existing steps.

Technology will eventually be important in terms of digitising to get more efficient processes without disrupting or indeed requiring conveyancing intervention, but at present this is just about moving tasks which are generally completed some way into the process to the front.

Agents may (quite rightly) say that it means extra work for them, but all that amounts to is explaining to your vendor that they must instruct their conveyancer at listing, and pay for searches and, when you find a buyer, just qualify them. And your return for this? You get paid in a far quicker timescale whilst minimising all the waste and frustration of sales that fall through.

And for those who say that clients won’t pay for it? We say the issue is not about payment – in Scotland they pay for the home report, in Northern Ireland they pay for marketing and back at the time of HIPs, clients also paid for them.

That won’t be an issue if it is presented by agents as simply the way the process works, the way to get the quickest transaction time, and the swiftest way to get them moved.

To the home mover, you are the authority on how to sell their home quickly and with the least chance of that sale falling through. And now you have the data to back that up.

We have been talking about this for a very long time, of that there is no doubt. But times have changed and, by adopting this, and everyone doing their bit, we can bring much-needed speed to our process, and cut down on fall-throughs, to the benefit of all. Watch this space for the next stage in how we take this forward.

*Beth Rudolf is Director of Delivery at the Conveyancing Association (CA)

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