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The UK Government is determined to speed up and simplify the home-buying process, following the launch of a review in October 2017 aimed in part at reducing the 25% of prospective sales that collapsed before completion; a staggering proportion.
“Buying a home is one of life’s largest investments, so if it goes wrong it can be costly,” said Javid. “That’s why we’re determined to take action to make the process cheaper, faster and less stressful. [The proposed measures] can help save people money and time so they can focus on what matters – finding their dream home.”
Currently, some 69% of sellers and 62% of buyers involved in a delayed process report feeling stress and worry because of that delay. Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who was Communities Secretary for the launch of the review, said at the time that the government “wants to help everyone have a good quality home they can afford, and improving the process of buying and selling is part of delivering that”.
One area the review stated the government is determined to tackle is gazumping – the situation in which a seller who has accepted an offer takes a better offer prior to completion, often with serious consequences for the chain of sales behind them. Rules will be introduced to ensure both parties honour their obligations, which conveyancers and property lawyers believe will improve trust on the part of buyers thanks to the introduction of lock-in agreements (meaning either party will be liable for a fee if they break their commitment).
Another area which is facing changes is the legislation governing the behaviour of estate agents, whom the government feels are currently charging too much (especially in the form of lettings fees and other charges). At present, just under a quarter (24%) of home sellers would use a different estate agent if they had to repeat the process, while 32% of sellers and 28% of buyers express dissatisfaction with their opposing party’s solicitors.
Another aspect of the process which the review said is causing great unhappiness on all sides is the conveyancing process, which the government and consumers agree is far too lengthy and unwieldy at present, stating that at present conveyancing usually takes between eight and twelve months. The government is said to be seeking to introduce new digital technology to speed up the process, whilst also placing strict deadlines on searches.
Karen James, Partner and Head of Conveyancing here at Ramsdens commented on the review: "I believe the government’s statistics are often misleading, and I would be interested to know where, on occasion, they are obtaining their information. Presumably, their estimate of ‘conveyancing taking between 8 and twelve months’ includes the length of time a property is being marketed before a sale is agreed. Once solicitors have been instructed, the national average time to completion is about 16 weeks. It is true that the process has slowed down considerably over the last few years, but this is because of more and more obligations being placed on conveyancers that really have nothing to do with checking a legal title –anti-money laundering legislation, FENSA and gas boiler certificates, Japanese Knotweed, help to buy schemes – the list simply goes on and on.
"I equally question their concern over gazumping. In over 30 years of practice, I can literally count on one hand the number of times a client of mine has been gazumped. It is true, however, that far too many transactions fail for some reason or another and millions of pounds are wasted each year as a result of this. We would welcome any initiative that would reduce the incidence of aborted transactions, which are not only costly, but can cause heartache to all involved."