On 30 June 2021, the recently extended Stamp Duty holiday will end.
UK resident buyers completing after the deadline will pay Stamp Duty on properties purchased for £250,000 or more. On 1 October 2021, the threshold will be further reduced to £125,000.
With widely reported (COVID-related) delays in the conveyancing process, buyers and sellers may already be feeling pessimistic about completing on time.
Even for recently agreed sales there is, however, much buyers and sellers can do to help speed up their transactions and beat the deadline.
What can sellers do to accelerate the process?
Instruct a solicitor
There is no need to hold off instructing a solicitor until you accept an offer. Starting the legal process as soon as you go on the market has numerous benefits that could ultimately speed up the conveyancing process.
Before a solicitor can legally represent you, there are various hoops to jump through, including getting a formal quote, completing identity and money laundering checks and signing and returning the solicitor’s terms of engagement.
Some conveyancing firms are so overwhelmed by the current demand for their services, that many law firms are thinking about closing their books to new cases. Those solicitors that are accepting new clients are taking much longer to complete these initial formalities.
If you wait until you have an offer, you could set yourself back weeks once you do accept an offer. With most firms working on a no move no fee basis, there is no reason to delay.
Complete the property forms
Once instructed, your solicitor will send you various property forms to complete. These include the TA6 Property information form, the TA10 Fittings and contents form, and the TA7 Leasehold information form (if you are selling a flat or leasehold house).
Completing these forms is time consuming – the TA6, for example, is over 20 pages long. You will need to locate documents referred to in these forms, such as electrical competition certificates, warranties and building regulations approvals.
Your solicitor will need the completed forms to attach to the draft contract sent to the buyer’s solicitor. Nothing, at all, will happen at the buyers end until these documents have been received.
Ask your solicitor to email the forms to you. You should complete and return them without delay. In theory your solicitor should be able to get the draft contract pack out to the buyer’s solicitor within 48 hours of you accepting an offer. Ask your solicitor if they have everything they need to send out the pack, and chase them to make sure it happens.
Pick the right buyer
If you’re lucky enough to receive multiple offers, choosing the right one can have a significant impact on how long the conveyancing process will take.
A chain-free buyer will not bring the potential of delays occurring elsewhere in the chain. A cash buyer will not be subject to potential lender delays. A chain-free cash buyer would be better still, but this buyer will be aware of how much more attractive their position is to sellers, and may make a lower offer. You should consult with your agent to decide on which offer to accept.
Apply for the leasehold management information pack
If you are selling a leasehold flat or house, your solicitor will need to apply to your freeholder or managing agent for a leasehold information pack. This pack will contain information about the management of the freehold, including accounting information, proposed future maintenance works and details of service charges and ground rent.
Chris Salmon, Director of Quittance Legal Services said “Obtaining leasehold information was a major cause of delays, even before the pandemic hit. It is now taking even longer to get hold of this information, so applying for it before you find a buyer makes sense. You will probably have to pay for the information pack upfront but, compared to the cost of potential delays, this is a worthwhile investment.”
What can buyers do to accelerate the process?
Get an Agreement in Principle (AIP)
Mortgage approvals are subject to significant delays as lenders struggle with their own mortgage application backlog. If you plan to take out a mortgage, you can ask your lender for an Agreement in Principle (AIP). With an AIP you are pre-vetted as a borrower, and the lender will confirm how much they may be willing to lend you.
An AIP can speed up the mortgage approval process once you find a property. It also shows you to be a serious, organised buyer to the seller when you make an offer.
Some lenders refer to AIP’s as Decisions in Principle (DIP) or Mortgages in Principle (MIP).
Instruct a solicitor and make sure they can act for your lender
There are benefits to instructing a solicitor before you find a property to buy. The identity verification, money laundering and instruction process can be completed in advance.
If you are obtaining a mortgage, your solicitor will need to carry out legal work on behalf of your lender. If your solicitor is not on your lender’s approved solicitor panel, this work will need to be outsourced to another firm. With conveyancing firms struggling to cope at present, you could face major delays.
Before you instruct, check whether your prospective solicitor can act for your chosen mortgage lender. If they can’t, find another solicitor that can.
Book your survey
If you intend to have a survey carried out, book as early as possible. Get quotes from a few surveyors and ask your lender if they could carry out the survey at the same time as the mortgage valuation. Choose whichever surveyor has the earliest availability.
In 2020, early in the Stamp Duty holiday, local authority searches were facing month-long delays. Although the situation has eased to some extent, there are still delays and some local authorities are faring much worse than others. Ask your solicitor to apply for searches immediately after your offer is accepted (a proactive solicitor will advise this anyway).
If you are a cash buyer, you could opt out of searches but you should ask your solicitor for more information on this option first.
Whether you are a buyer or seller, once the conveyancing process is underway, the various parties involved will be coordinated through your solicitor. Your agent will also be an invaluable source of communication and coordination.
Despite this, transactions often fall through as a result of communication issues. You can play a proactive role in brokering communication by using email wherever possible and CC’ing all relevant parties on any correspondence.
Don’t be afraid to chase your solicitor if you think things aren’t progressing quickly enough. Many solicitors have hundreds of active files at any one time. Keeping yourself top of the solicitor’s mind could stop your transaction from slipping to the bottom of the pile.
Chris Salmon – Author BioChris Salmon is a co-founder and Director of Quittance Legal Services.