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Conveyancers lobby for staggered stamp duty deadline as firms turn down work – Rudolf

by: Beth Rudolf is director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association
  • 23/10/2020
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Conveyancers lobby for staggered stamp duty deadline as firms turn down work – Rudolf
These are undoubtedly incredibly busy times at present for all housing market stakeholders.


I’m sure mortgage advisers will know it only too well and, from a conveyancing perspective, we have member firms working 12-hour days and weekends to keep on top of the volume of business.

Of course, were this any ‘normal’ year then the situation may be slightly different – a stamp duty holiday, for example, is always likely to up activity and all practitioners can work this into their strategies, processes and resources.

However, when it is off the back of a two-month lockdown, the upheaval Covid-19 has wrought, the huge demand we’ve seen, remote working and such, I’m sure you’ll understand this is a very different situation to be working within.


Lobbying to extend deadline

This is not meant to be an excuse but will give some idea of the background, what conveyancers have faced, and what this means in terms of the work they have and what they are attempting to do.

We know of firms, for instance, who are turning down new instructions because they want to ensure their service levels can be maintained on the work they do have.

That’s not ideal by any stretch of the imagination but needs must.

The backdrop of the stamp duty holiday also brings into sharp focus the requirements of all stakeholders who will clearly want to ensure their clients secure the savings on offer.

Conveyancing firms get this and the ticking clock that is on for all purchase cases.

I might add that we are pushing to get that deadline changed so the stamp duty saving tapers off over time rather than ends in a cliff edge.

The current approach could leave consumer confidence at a badly timed low, because it is our belief that, it is required to help the housing market overall but also, by next March we will have a significant number of purchases trying to beat the deadline and they won’t be able to do so on the current timeline.


Six weeks for searches

There are some practical measures all stakeholders, including advisers, can put in place to speed up the process and give your cases every chance of completing before the deadline.

I hope you’re all aware of the Home Buying & Selling Group (HBSG) pledges that set out a number of ‘To Do’ points we can all follow, and importantly urge our clients to set in train to improve the chances of getting the transaction completed.

As conveyancers it would be incredibly helpful if sellers instructed us when they list the property; in that way they can ask us to review the Title/review the property information and, by doing this, we can get ahead of any issues that are raised.

All this before they find a buyer.

There are further steps which can be taken to improve transaction speed, notably ordering the local and drainage and water searches on the property.

This is because many local authorities currently have delays, and we are told 10 per cent are taking six weeks to return searches – plot that on your client’s timetable and see where it takes you.

If the searches are only ordered after a mortgage offer is received, in order to be certain that the individual is proceedable and can afford the property, with offers taking up to 45 days and searches taking 30 days to get them.

Then again, it won’t need me to tell you where your case will sit in its ability to complete before the end of March.


Get ahead of the curve

We appreciate that asking the seller to pay money upfront is not a popular option, which is why seller’s property lawyers generally would not do the searches but we have been quoted Search Code compliant searches costing around £100 and, on average, an aborted transaction costs the consumer approximately £700.

The point is that the seller is definitely selling that property anyway.

Searches ordered at listing mean they are also available to the potential buyer, so they can choose the right lender, plus the valuer also has them which means post-valuation queries can be avoided, and the case progresses far quicker.

When I started in conveyancing there was a move to start including official copies of the Land Registry title at the seller’s cost in the contract pack, recognising the need to provide the title information upfront took time.

Yet the provision of all local authority information makes just as much sense when your buyer might pull out if it impacts their use and enjoyment.

Far better to have a genuine proceedable buyer rather than someone who has made an offer based on little or no information and has to pull out later because it will not work for them or their lender.

Overall, it really is about getting ahead of the curve with a transaction.

Setting in train those parts of the process which can take time means you and your client are not adding delay onto delay, especially when we have a deadline that if missed may possibly cost thousands of pounds.

Ask the question: can it be done upfront? If it can, then the answer is, do it as soon as possible. Your client will definitely thank you later.


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