The Waiting Game – Buying and Selling Property

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Buying Property

David Wershof, senior partner at Wiseman Lee, takes a look at the common causes of delay when buying or selling a house and advises those involved not to have unrealistic expectations.

One of the first questions I am always asked when instructed on any type of transaction is: “How long will it take?” There is never a simple answer to this, but what are the main factors to take into account when giving a time estimate for buying and selling property?

A straightforward residential conveyance would involve either the sale or purchase of registered land with no other linked transactions, no chain involved, with a cash buyer who does not require a survey, and with solicitors acting for the other side who are equally keen to move matters quickly. Sadly, this combination of factors is rare. What is more likely is that you will have a related sale or purchase and that there will be other people in the chain. Assuming that it all goes smoothly, and particularly that none of the parties in the chain changes their mind and pulls out, a reasonable time frame would be eight to 12 weeks. But who or what are the main culprits for delay in a conveyancing transaction?

Mortgage lenders, who have become increasingly risk-averse since the recession in 2008, are one such culprit. Prior to the financial crisis, mortgages were issued by the more efficient banks and building societies within a couple of weeks. The process is now much slower, and we have seen examples of lenders changing or even withdrawing offers just as we are about to exchange contracts. Our advice is never to exchange without a written mortgage offer.

Chains, which are part and parcel of the house buying and selling process in England and Wales, are another culprit. Because potential buyers are able to make offers on property without any binding legal obligations (or what has in the past been called “subject to contract”), they are not committing to buy the property until all their arrangements, including their survey and mortgage advance, are in place. Buyers and sellers are able to withdraw from the transaction at any point up to exchange – an adverse survey, their inability to obtain a suitable mortgage, or purely on a whim – the list of reasons is endless. Some even threaten to withdraw solely with the intention of trying to agree an 11th-hour reduction in price.

Mortgage panels are the final culprits worth considering. Where you are getting a mortgage to help you purchase your house or flat, your lender will appoint a firm of solicitors who are on their panel of law firms to act for them. In this way, the lender ensures that their interests are fully protected before releasing the mortgage funds. In the majority of cases, the law firm appointed will be the same firm that you have also instructed for your conveyancing. Where two different firms are acting this will cause delay. Look for a solicitor who is a member of the Law Society Conveyancing Quality Scheme, since it is a scheme recognised by most mortgage lenders.

We all know how stressful moving house can be, not least because of the built-in uncertainties. Buyers and sellers can try to reduce their stress levels by not harbouring unrealistic expectations about how long the process will last. Take a realistic view of an eight- to 12-week period and then you will be delighted if it takes less time.

This article was originally published in the Wanstead Village Directory.

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