Speed up conveyancing - how to take control

One-third of house sales fall through, often due to delays in the legal work. What can you do to take control and help secure your home move?

Skeleton solicitor
Is your solicitor taking forever?

Tips for faster purchase conveyancing

Sort your finances out

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) (aka 'Mortgage Promise' or 'Agreement in Principle') which 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.

With a DIP, when you do find a property, you will be in a much stronger position.

Also, ask your lender to make a note on your file that you prefer email communication. If you don't, many lenders will default to snail mail.

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.

Choose an efficient solicitor - how can you know in advance?

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 they have a proactive approach to conveyancing.

You will get a good idea of a firm's likely efficiency during the pre-instruction steps. If they are 'ploddy' in coming back to you before you have instructed them, it does not bode well - go elsewhere.

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. Be balanced in your interpretation of these - it is hard to please all of the people all of the time when moving home. You are looking for a running theme of poor communication and delays. If you find this evidence, move onto the next solicitor.

Once you have chosen your solicitor, do the following immediately:

  • Get your solicitor to email their welcome pack of documents immediately. Chase this if they do not.
  • Complete the ID. instruction 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 move Heaven and Earth to help completion. Agents will think nothing of making chase calls, liaising up and down the chain, even driving to collect and deliver documents.

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

Adverse survey results

When a survey uncovers problems that will be costly to fix, 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 the 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.

Tips for faster sale conveyancing

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?”. Land Registry data suggests that Spring is the best time to sell a home. If you can afford to wait until the Spring to sell, maybe you should consider it?

The bright, warmer weather in Spring generally shows off homes and gardens to best effect. Also, more potential buyers are likely to be out on the property hunt in 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 rise around September, with buyers eager to complete before Christmas.

Pick the right buyer

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

Other than the size of a buyer's offer, the two biggest considerations are financing and whether there is a chain.

As a general rule, a cash buyer will be able to complete faster than someone buying with a mortgage. A mortgage lender will require additional due diligence to be carried out, including a survey. This can cause delays.

If the buyer's circumstances change, or the survey finds problems or that the property is overvalued, the lender may be unwilling to lend sufficient funds. This may lead to delays as the price is renegotiated, or to the buyer dropping out entirely. This is less of a risk with a cash buyer.

Also, a chain-free buyer is generally more attractive than a buyer in a chain (i.e. a buyer who must sell their current property before they can complete the purchase of your home). A first-time buyer, buy-to-let investor or someone buying a second home is not dependent on any other parties to complete the sale.

A buyer in a chain is reliant on all the other transactions in the chain completing to buy your home. The longer the chain, the more parties there are, and the more chances for delays, or for something critical to go wrong somewhere, causing the whole chain to collapse.

Collect all necessary 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

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

Return forms and answer enquiries ASAP

You can significantly speed up the conveyancing simply by promptly responding to the buyer's solicitor's enquiries. The first and longest of these is the standard Property Information Form (PIF or TA6).

The PIF may take a little time to complete, and may through up questions you want to ask your solicitor about how to respond, so it's a very good idea to get started on this form as soon as possible. These forms are usually standard, so there's no reason you couldn't download a sample TA6 form and work out your answers now.

The buyer's solicitor will always have some follow-up questions based on your answers, so make sure you answer these promptly too.

Be prepared for negotiations and 'chipping'

As the buyer's survey report arrives and the property search results come back, there is always the chance that a defect or issue could come to light.

These issues can often be resolved through a dialogue with the buyer, either by you agreeing to complete or pay for any repair work or through a renegotiation of the price.

The buyer may also try to 'chip' at the last minute, making a lower offer and threatening to pull out.

Mentally and emotionally prepare for these negotiations to happen. Work out what your minimum acceptable price is, and try to avoid getting emotional or taking offence.

Even if your buyer is 'trying it on', work out what matters most to you. If you cannot reach an agreement, it may be better to walk away rather than accept a bad deal.

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 to proceed, you should also be able to sign and return the scanned document by email. Again, this can cut days of potential delay.

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.

Helen Goddard, Legal researcher

About the author

Helen is an award-winning legal researcher and author. She is an experienced court litigation report proofreader and has written extensively on legal matters.

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