How long does conveyancing really take and why?

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Aren’t lawyers infuriating?! The only question that you want them to answer when you are in the middle of buying your dream property is “how long is this all going to take?” and that of course is the question that they won’t answer. You may get “it depends“ but you rarely get a straight answer to a straight question. Why is that? This blog is going to tell you how long conveyancing really takes and why it takes so long.

We are going to cover:

  1. What are the transaction times during Covid-19 vs pre-pandemic?
  2. How long does each stage take?
  3. Why does conveyancing in the UK take longer than in other countries? 
  4. Why does conveyancing take longer for leasehold properties?
  5. What else can delay your conveyancing? 
  6. How to make conveyancing faster and less stressful?

1. Conveyancing transaction time during Covid-19 vs pre-pandemic

At the moment, the average transaction time (between agreeing the purchase of your home and moving in) is 16–18 weeks. This could be even longer if you are buying a leasehold property.

Now we are not in ordinary times I grant you and the reality at the moment is that the whole housing market is in a frenzy. Houses get sold in an hour or so of coming on the market and there are not enough conveyancers around to cope with the work. But even in ordinary times you are lucky if you get to move in within 4 months. So what exactly is included in this process?

2. How long does each stage of a conveyancing transaction take?

Conveyancing can be a lengthy process mainly because it depends on many different parties and involves a lot of chasing up. The longest parts are:

  • completing searches on the property and waiting for a response from local authorities
  • arranging a mortgage
  • drafting or reviewing the contract pack

There is no set in stone schedule for conveyancing but we break it down into three main stages as follows: 

3. Why does conveyancing in the UK take longer than in other countries?

We have an imperfect conveyancing process in the UK (Scotland is different but not much quicker). What that means is that the current process is not designed for today’s digital commerce.

The core principle of conveyancing is “caveat emptor“, let the buyer beware. What this means is that the buyer of a property has to carry out all due diligence, whilst the seller is not required to disclose all information by default. It is really up to the buyer to interrogate them as to the boundaries of the property, its planning uses, and whether there are any other risks or obligations.

This is different elsewhere in the world – even in the Commonwealth countries such as Australia, where some of the states require the seller to disclose all material information without being asked. If they don’t do so, the buyer has a right of action against them. Whilst there is talk of bringing seller disclosure to the UK it is some time off (if at all) and for the foreseeable future the current process continues.

So, unless you as a buyer ask the right questions, the seller has no responsibility to provide material information. There is a lot of information gathering and enquiries which your conveyancer will need to do, and this to-ing and fro-ing inevitably takes time. The time taken from issuing the contract by the seller to the buyers conveyancers being happy with the title and ancillary issues can routinely take 6–8 weeks.

4. Why does conveyancing take longer for leasehold properties?

If the flat or house you have agreed to buy is leasehold then you might have to add another 2 weeks at least onto this timescale.

Remaining term of the lease

Some old properties on leasehold commonly referred to as 999 or peppercorn leases are virtually equivalent to freehold properties. They will be invariably houses – not flats – and there will be no onerous terms other than to notify the landlords when you sell the property. These properties are not the problem.

The issues arise when you are looking to purchase a house or a flat on a much shorter term – say 125 years. This is pretty common in London. There is nothing wrong with these properties but unfortunately every year that goes by reduces the remaining term of the lease. Most lenders prefer to see at least 30 years on top of the term of your mortgage with them (e.g. for a 25-year loan they want to see 65 years on the lease).

But even that is not going to be good enough and any conveyancer is going to caution you against buying a property with only 65 years left to run. The simple reason for this is that if you want to move on after say 5 years you will find the property is unmortgageable. So here is another factor in the delay – if the lease is not long enough you will be asking the seller to extend the lease.

Avoiding financial surprises

Even if the lease has plenty of time to run your conveyancer will still want a whole range of questions to be asked of the landlord or managing agent. They will want to know if there are any nasty financial surprises awaiting you such as repairs to the communal roof which could literally cost £0000’s. This information is not held centrally but locally – quite often in a folder in someone’s draw and the time wasted waiting for responses on leasehold properties is legendary, so add at least 2 weeks onto the transaction if leasehold.

5. What else can delay your conveyancing?

Conveyancing can take longer than expected simply because it requires a lot of paperwork – some digital but mainly analogue. There are also around 6 stakeholders involved in a transaction (you, the seller, both your conveyancers, your lender and maybe your mortgage broker). There will also be time delays whilst the conveyancers deal with other peoples transactions which to them are  just as important as yours.

Chain of transactions

Sorry to say but if you end up in a chain which is very common in transactions this could easily add 4-8 weeks onto the timescales. This is because the people you are buying will often have somewhere they want to buy and if there is an issue with that ongoing purchase then you are likely to be stuck in what we conveyancers call the “chain nightmare”.

Most common reasons for conveyancing delays

Here are just a few of the most common causes of delay with conveyancing which can push your transaction time back:

  • An issue with the property title. Although it’s not very common that something turns up that can’t be resolved quickly. There may be a missing deed which may be held by Land Registry or if it’s a long time ago an indemnity policy could be put in place to protect you and your lender.
  • Some outstanding information about the lease you are taking over. Management companies can be notoriously difficult to get responses from and it’s quite common to have to wait for weeks to get even the most simple of information.
  • An issue with your mortgage offer – for example, the lender’s valuer may have down valued the property. This is not uncommon and particularly in these times when buyers are routinely paying over the odds for property. Lenders valuers are conservative folk at the best and they will be reluctant to value any property over the price set by the estate agent. If they downvalue it means the lender won’t lend what you want them to which could lead to you not being able to afford the property.
  • There could be a probate involved where one of the sellers has recently died and before the transaction can legally proceed a Grant of Probate is required. This could take weeks or months depending on what the size of the estate is.
  • Your seller may be buying a new property which isn’t actually built or completed yet.
  • You may be buying through one of the Government Help to Buy Schemes. There are additional rules and this could take a little longer or the seller may be selling a Help to Buy Property which again could delay matters.

6. How to make conveyancing faster and less stressful?

You could be lucky and be buying for cash from a seller who is already out and the title is a nice easy freehold property. This could cut the time by half or even more for you. However most transactions aren’t like that.

Alternatively you could get more involved in the transaction and drive the pace yourself. We are shortly to launch the first of its kind in conveyancing – YouConvey. This is a platform that gives you a chance to do all admin tasks yourself – completing property forms, chasing up third parties such as landlords, keeping on top of what’s going on and pushing anyone who isn’t responding in a timely fashion… and that’s about 80% of the conveyancing process that you can do on your own terms!

YouConvey is not about D-I-Y conveyancing. Whilst that is possible and certainly legal, we wouldn’t expect you to negotiate legal documents or commit to a legal contract for the largest purchase in your life without relying on proper legal representation. YouConvey puts you in control of the pace of the transaction but all the legal requirements are still carried out by our experienced conveyancer, so you get the best from both worlds. Interested in shaving weeks off the transaction time? Sign up for updates here and be the first to trial YouConvey.

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