11 May 2021
The latest property market figures* show that after an understandably volatile 2020, residential listings and completions picked up to 2019 levels in January and February this year. This culminated in a 66% increase in property completions, when comparing March 2019 to March 2021. This surge can be put down in part to playing catch up as we emerge from lockdown restrictions, but many feel that the real driver fuelling this mammoth conveyancing effort, is the SDLT “holiday”. This has now been extended to remove the “Cliff Edge” scenario, with phase 1 now due to end on June 30th 2021.
With the buying and selling of property still subject to some, albeit not all restrictions which we saw in the first UK lockdown, and with large numbers of workplaces still adopting, or at the very least adapting to working remotely, how has this record level of completions been achieved? And how might these working practices be implemented in the longer term to make the conveyancing process both quicker and less stressful?
Digitising the conveyancing process has been key in dealing with the surge in transactions. And for the first time ever in 2020, Land Registry began accepting electronic signatures for transfer of property ownership. A monumental step forward for the digital age and one which really paves the way for the next steps in technology, where agents and buyers are advised to work with Covid-secure conveyancers who have the innovative technology in place to help transactions progress more quickly.
It’s estimated that on average it takes 28 days between sale agreed and a conveyancer on-boarding the client and getting the forms completed when using a manual process. This is reduced to five days where the conveyancer uses a fully automated digital platform and even quicker than this with the right solution. The ability to provide online quotes, on board clients, order searches, complete ID checks (Both AML and Biometric Face scanning checks) and sign documents digitally, speeds up the process and allows all parties to see the progress of the transaction. More and more estate agents have also switched to using digital technology for initial viewings where physical ones have not been possible.
Alongside practical and legal process, prioritising communication has also been key to progressing house moves efficiently. UK lockdowns have brought a more pressing need for professionals to work flexibly, use technology and communicate virtually. This has also translated to working practices and communication with clients. Agreeing how and when progress will be communicated helps to avoid lots of unnecessarily “chasing” up and allows the process to run more smoothly. Keeping customers calm, managing expectations and staying positive is also key. Working to a deadline, such as the ones imposed by SDLT, may have had a positive effect in galvanising activity and helping all parties to work towards a common goal.
Buyers need to play their part
Moving house is widely recognised as being one of the most stressful life events, with no guaranteed timelines. An average move takes over 20 weeks from SSTC, but varies enormously according to the size of chain and the properties involved. Whilst much of the timeline will be in the hands of the solicitors, buyers do need to play their part in helping the process along.
When analysing the UK property market (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) the majority of buyers and sellers would only instruct a solicitor once an offer to buy or sell had been accepted. However, instructing a solicitor early on in the moving process and ensuring they are compatible with the lender offering the mortgage, is key to ensuring transactions do not stall. As mentioned, with average transaction times currently sitting at over 20 weeks, every second really does count for those buyers and sellers to ensure they reach their completion milestone unscathed.
This makes it even more important for Solicitors and Estate agents, to continue playing their part in educating consumers so they can make an informed choice. Being organised with finances and paperwork speeds up transaction times, reduces fall through rates and helps the conveyancing process get off to the best possible start.
Whilst conditions over the last 14 months have not been ideal, the residential property sector has shown a tenacious ability to adapt to differing market conditions, buyer behaviour and technology. Although there is much debate about the pressure the SDLT holiday has put on property professionals versus its ability to incentivise and galvanise activity across the sector, hopefully some of the working practices implemented are now here to stay.
Legal Bricks offer a full range of services to help simplify and speed up the conveyancing process. Contact our team for full details.
*Figures from Landmark Information Property Market Report published April 2021.