Speed up the conveyancing process - how to take control

1-in-3 house sales fall through, often due to delays in the conveyancing process. What can you do to take control and help secure your home move?

Family home movers

COVID-19 Update:

Across the UK, solicitors, lenders, agents, local authorities and surveyors are all currently reporting backlogs. This is partly due to the increased demand resulting from the Stamp Duty holiday and partly due to the challenges of operating within the distancing rules.

This article was written before the COVID crisis but the advice is even more relevant during this uncertain time.

Tips for home sellers

Start the legal process ASAP

At the start of the conveyancing process, solicitors focus on collating information and documents and completing various formalities. Completing these initial tasks as soon as possible after you put your property on the market can prevent foreseeable delays once you find a buyer.

Once you accept an offer, your solicitor must send a draft contract and any relevant information to the buyer’s solicitor. This information will be reviewed by the buyer's solicitor who will revert with additional further enquiries.

Although most of the legal work on a property transaction is carried out on the buyer’s side, the conveyancing process cannot commence until the buyer's solicitor receives the draft contract pack.

Completing these initial formalities as soon as you put your property on the market could shave weeks off the process. As most solicitors work on a no move no fee basis, there is no reason to wait until you have accepted an offer before instructing a solicitor.

Collect documents, warranties and certificates

The buyer and their solicitor will want to know as much as possible about the property. This will include requests for a range of paperwork, including:

  • Up-to-date gas and electrical safety certificates
  • Planning permission and building regulations approval for any works that have been carried out at the property
  • Warranties, including NHBC certificates in the case of new build homes

Again, you can significantly reduce delays by ensuring you collect all necessary documents as soon as possible, and ideally before you market the property.

Complete and return the property information forms ASAP

Your solicitor will send you various forms to complete, including the Property Information Form (TA6), Fittings and Contents Form (TA10), and the Leasehold Information Form (TA7) if you are selling a flat.

The forms will ask you questions about the property and how you have used it. These forms are detailed and will take time to complete. You should complete these forms immediately and return them to your solicitor - ideally before you find a buyer.

You may need to consult with your solicitor about how to respond to some of the questions.

You can download specimen forms here:

Apply for the leasehold management information pack (if selling a flat)

If you are selling a leasehold property, the buyer’s solicitor will also need to review the leasehold management information pack. The pack will contain service charge and ground rent accounts, insurance details, information about planned works and details of any disputes.

Your solicitor will need to obtain this information from the managing agent or freeholder. The time it takes to obtain this information is a common cause of delay. Some managing agents take months to turn an information request around.

If you are selling a flat, it is imperative that the management information is requested as early on as possible - ideally as soon as you put your home on the market. You will normally have to pay between £300 and £500 to the managing agent, but this pales compared to the cost and inconvenience of delays.

Be prepared for renegotiations or price 'chipping'

It is not unusual for buyers to renegotiate during the conveyancing process. In a buyer's market, for example, buyers may also try to 'chip' at the last minute, making a lower offer and threatening to pull out.

Renegotiations are more common when a defect is identified during the home buyers survey. The COVID stamp duty holiday is already leading to price reductions where transactions look unlikely to complete before the deadline.

These issues can often be resolved through a dialogue with the buyer. Depending on the issue, you might decide to renegotiate, split ten difference r even stand firm on the price. The key thing is to work out what your minimum acceptable price is, and try to avoid getting emotional or taking offence.

Work out your bottom line so you are ready if the buyer tries to renegotiate.

Pick the right time of year to sell

If you haven't yet put your property on the market, ask yourself, “Is this the best time to sell?”. In terms of the time taken to complete a sale, HM Land Registry data suggests that spring is the best time to sell. If you can afford to wait until the Spring to sell, maybe you should consider it?

The brighter, warmer weather in Spring generally show homes and gardens at their best. Property hunters come out of the woodwork in the Spring. During the Summer holidays, many buyers will be on holiday (this is especially an issue if they have children and you are selling a family home).

In the Autumn and Winter months, the cold weather puts off many house hunters, with many people more concerned with planning (and budgeting) for Christmas. That said, interest can spike around September, with buyers eager to complete before Christmas.

Pick the right buyer

Choosing the right buyer can have a big impact on your house sale. If speed is a factor, the highest offer is not necessarily the best.

A cash buyer will typically be able to complete faster than a buyer taking out a mortgage. A mortgage lender will require additional due diligence to be carried out, including a survey, which can cause delays.

If the buyer's circumstances change, or the survey identifies problems or that the property is overvalued, the lender may be unwilling to lend or 'down-value' the property. This may lead to delays as the price is renegotiated or the buyer pulls out of the purchase.

A chain-free buyer will not need to sell a property before completing on the purchase. A first-time buyer, buy-to-let investor or someone buying a second home will be chain-free as they are not dependent on any other parties to complete the sale.

With a chain, all transactions must complete at the same time. There is an increased likelihood of a link in the chain breaking if a buyer pulls out. The longer the chain, the more parties there are and the greater the chances of delays or the whole chain collapsing.

Tips for home buyers

Sort out your finances

You should identify which lender and mortgage product you want to apply for before you start your property search. Contact your preferred lender and ask them for a Decision in Principle' (DIP). A DIP may also be referred to as a 'Mortgage Promise' or 'Agreement in Principle'.

A DIP will:

  • Get the credit check out of the way.
  • Get the affordability checks out of the way.
  • Confirm that the lender will lend to you
  • Tell you how much you can afford.
  • Give you a certificate to show the buyer which will help support your offer.

When you do find a property you want to buy, a DIP will help put your offer in a more positive light to the seller.

Ask your lender to make a note on your file that you prefer email communication. Many lenders use snail mail by default.

Check that the solicitor can act for your mortgage lender

Once your offer has been accepted, make sure your preferred conveyancing solicitor can act for your chosen mortgage lender.

The conveyancing solicitor will need to carry out additional due diligence on behalf of the lender. The solicitor can only do this if they belong to the lender's panel of approved solicitors. Not all solicitors can act for all lenders.

If the solicitor is not on your chosen lender's panel, major delays can arise. Your conveyancing file will need to be 'outsourced' to another firm to complete the 'acting for lender' work. This can add weeks of delay, and you may even receive an additional bill!

It is critical that you chose a solicitor that can act for your lender. If they can not - go elsewhere.

Check whether our solicitor panel can act for your solicitor.

Choose a proactive solicitor

Service levels in the conveyancing industry vary wildly. Traditional firms compete with tech-driven conveyancing factories. Neither of these is intrinsically better or worse than the other. What matters is whether the solicitor has a proactive approach to your sale or purchase.

You will get a good idea of a firm's approach during the pre-instruction steps. If they are slow in coming back to you with a quote, how will they perform once you are a client?

Check the solicitor's credentials. Are they part of the Conveyancing Quality Scheme? Do they have Lexcel accreditation? Have they won any awards for conveyancing excellence? These are all good indicators that the firm takes service seriously.

Finally, check online reviews - but be balanced in your interpretation of these. Conveyaninging is intrinsically stressful as the solicitor seeks to coordinate multiple parties. Look for a running theme of poor communication and delays.

Once you have chosen your solicitor, do the following:

  • Get your solicitor to email their welcome pack of documents immediately. Chase them if you don't receive this within 2 working days.
  • Complete the ID and any other forms immediately. Scan them, return them by email and ask for confirmation of receipt.
  • Call the estate agent and give them your solicitor's details. Give the agent your solicitor's email address and ask then to send the 'Sales Memorandum' through immediately. Ask them to CC you in and set the tone from the outset.
  • If you have any questions or concerns about the property, tell your solicitor. They will raise these issues with the seller.
  • Ask your solicitor whether there is anything else they need before matters can progress.
  • Tell your solicitor that you would like them to apply for faster 'personal searches' ASAP (assuming the lender accepts these). If you are a cash buyer, you could opt not to have searches at all. This can save time and money.
  • Contact your lender and ask if the valuation survey can be fast-tracked. If you want a more detailed HomeBuyer Report or Building survey, you could ask the lender to do this at the same time. Some argue that it is better to get an independent surveyor, so find out how quickly you can get an independent survey first.
  • If you are getting financial help to buy from a family member, tell the solicitor immediately. Your lawyer will need to draft a 'Gifted Deposit' document for the lender. Leaving this to the last minute is a common cause of delays.

If you think your solicitor is not working quickly enough:

  • Phone your solicitor and air your concerns. There may be legitimate reasons for the apparent lack of progress, and you may be able to help resolve these. If not, a nudge should get the solicitor to prioritise your file - they will want to avoid further calls.
  • If things don't improve, call the practice manager and complain. The complaints procedure will be set out in the terms and conditions. Tell the practice manager that you want your file moved the most proactive member of the conveyancing team.

Get the agent more involved

Much maligned, estate agents are often the unsung heroes of the property sale and purchase. Their interests are very much aligned with yours, and they only get paid if the sale goes through.

A good agent will do all they can to push things along. Agents will help chase up and down the chain.

Communicate regularly with the agent and help them help you by keeping them up to date with everything.

Adverse survey results

If the buyer's survey uncovers potentially cost;y defects, most buyers will want to negotiate a lower selling price to reflect these unforeseen costs.

There is no need to feel awkward about a renegotiation; it is often expected. But don't faff about, if you are going to make a revised offer you should do so without delay.

Lack of planning, building regulations and other problems

If your solicitor's enquiries reveal technical problems that you are happy to live with, such as an 'unofficial' roof terrace or missing electrical certificate, tell your solicitor you are happy to opt for an indemnity policy to speed things up.

The seller will usually cover the cost of a policy, and if the problem becomes an issue, then you are insured. This route is infinitely preferable to allowing your solicitors to score points against the other side's lawyer whilst your purchase goes off the rails.

Communication, communication, communication

This is the real secret to easier conveyancing. We cannot overstate how critical communication is to a faster, less-stressful, successful home sale or purchase. There are, however, several components to improved communication during your property transaction.

Proactive conveyancing solicitor communication

Ensure your property lawyer uses phone and email wherever possible. Some more 'traditional' firms still rely on dictating letters to a secretary that are then sent to you via Royal Mail 2nd class post!

Phone and email are not only faster, but they also make it easier for you to respond faster too. This alone can shave days off, as your solicitor isn't waiting around for your answers or further instructions.

Overcome your “am I being a nuisance?” reservations

Solicitors, agents and lenders have lots of other clients. He who shouts loudest tends to get prioritised. Don't be afraid to chase people daily if you need to.

Email and scan documents

From the solicitor's initial notification of instruction to the actual contract of sale, there are several documents that you must sign. Don't wait for paper copies to arrive in the post. Ask for all docs to be emailed to you so that you can print them out yourself the same day.

Unless your solicitor absolutely needs a hard copy document to proceed, sign and return the scanned document by email.

CC everyone

Another reason to promote fast, proactive communication is that it helps to catch small misunderstandings, problems and delays before they escalate. Ensure that you and your solicitor also CC in other relevant parties when corresponding, including the buyer or seller on the other side,

CC'ing in all parties will ensure that everyone is kept in the loop, and will also keep the pressure on the slowest parties.

Regular updates

Finally, ask your solicitor to provide regular updates, even if there is technically nothing new to report. Many property lawyers are overworked, handling many files at once, and some will tend to respond fastest to those clients who make the most noise.

A regular update will keep you appraised of your conveyancing solicitor's progress and should help you to feel a little more in control of what can seem frustratingly opaque at times.

Regular updates can also reveal potential delays before they become serious risks to the success of your transaction. This may allow you to get directly involved, e.g. by chasing your freeholder or managing agent for a response to your solicitor or calling your mortgage provider for an update.

Your next step

If you are buying, selling, remortgaging or transferring equity in a home, we can help you find an expert conveyancing solicitor.

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Helen Goddard, Legal researcher

Author:
Helen Goddard, Legal researcher