A Spanner in the Works?

Ask anyone who is putting their property on the market about how long the legal side of things could take once they find a buyer and most will say about eleven weeks. Oh, if only it were just eleven weeks! The national average period that it currently takes between acceptance of an offer to exchange of contracts is almost double that. It is a disgrace!

There was a time when a property transaction would take twenty-eight days to exchange and another twenty-eight to complete. Remember typewriters, the telephone and the Royal Mail?  Today, with all our modern technology, it takes about a quarter of a year just to reach exchange of contracts – and that is after a buyer has been found. Of course, the longer the procedure lasts the more complicated a sale may become. The number of deals falling through is higher than ever. This all adds to the uncertainty about moving home and the inevitable cost.

Why does a property sale take so long? There is little money in conveyancing so fewer solicitors are taking on the job; the checks and balances have become more time consuming than ever, and our litigious society means that everyone is scared of their own shadow. With more checks and fewer conveyancers it is hardly surprising that deals take longer than ever to go through. The contract aside, in some parts of the country local authority searches can take up to ten weeks while in other areas they only take a week or so, and the national average is six to eight weeks. Depending on postcode, delayed searches can hamper the procedure.

The latest Secretary of State for Housing is named James Brokenshire and he does have his work cut out with Grenfell Tower and building safety, planning and house building. But if the government wants a truly mobile and flexible workforce that can adapt to and grasp new employment opportunities around the country, then bogging down house sales in legal and local government bureaucracy for months on end is not going to help, and who appreciates payment to the government of top stamp duty costs?

In a few years will any of us remember Mr Brokenshire any more than we remember the names of the last fourteen housing ministers who have had an average tenure in the housing post of about 16 months? If he wishes to be remembered fondly, or even at all, then he could do us all a favour by addressing the dire speed of property transactions and get the country moving!