In most cases, the conveyancing for the purchase of a home will take between 10 and 12 weeks. But it can be much less or a lot longer, depending on many circumstances.
Conveyancing solicitors cannot normally give a precise reply to the question "how long will my conveyancing take?" or even "how long does it take to buy a house" at the start of any transaction. This is not because they do not want to but because there are usually so many unknowns in the equation, it is not possible to give a meaningful reply.
Anyone who is a regular viewer of TV soaps might get the impression that buying a property is something that can be done in a few hours. In one episode, someone buys a house at auction, and the next night they are moving in! In real life, this is extremely unlikely.
Property lawyers often get the blame for delaying things, but in fact they should be (and most are) only too happy to achieve a speedy completion for their clients. Not only is client satisfaction a key concern for most solicitors, the fact that they tend to work on a no-completion, no-fee basis means they don't get paid until completion takes place.
Factors that can delay completion - and how to avoid them
But there are many outside factors that can delay completion and conveyancing solicitors can often do nothing about them. Here are a few of them.
Delay in getting a mortgage offer
Buyers frequently underestimate the time it can take to get a mortgage offer. Many buyers make the mistake of thinking that if a lender has pre-approved them for a mortgage, this is the same thing as having an offer - it is not. A full mortgage application can only be made once buyers have found a property to buy. Only when the lender has obtained its own valuation of the property and carried out risk-analysis checks will a formal offer be issued. Until then, buyers cannot be certain of obtaining their finance.
Seller's delay in giving access for a survey
As part of the application process, the lender will require a valuation survey, and many buyers also require a full building survey. To do this, the surveyor will require access to the property, which has to be arranged with the seller. Delays can occur if the seller is difficult to contact or uncooperative. It is essential the surveyor has the correct contact details for the seller and/or the agents to make an appointment.
The survey reveals defects that require attention or further investigation
If a survey reveals defects, a further specialist survey may have to be obtained (e.g. for woodworm) or an estimate obtained for the cost of repairs. Sometimes a lender will insist that defects are remedied before the mortgage money can be released. Your conveyancing solicitor will then embark on more negotiations with the seller, and delays are likely if a price reduction cannot be agreed or the seller is not willing to pay for work to be carried out before completion.
Delay in obtaining search results
Solicitors are normally expected to carry out a number of searches and enquiries as part of a conveyancing transaction. The most important of these is the search with the local council. An official search form has to be sent to the council, which can usually be done electronically. But while all councils have been encouraged to computerise their records so they can respond quickly to search requests, not all have yet done so. So while some can return results within a day or so, others still take weeks. Homeward Legal works with Searches UK to make the conveyancing process as smooth as possible. Click for a quote here.
Seller looking for another property
Many people selling a home so they can buy another one do not start looking for somewhere to buy until they have found a buyer. There will then be a delay while they find a suitable property and sort out a mortgage.
If a seller is buying another property and requires the money from the sale to complete the purchase, there will be a chain of transactions. In such cases, every transaction will have to complete on the same day to ensure the funds can be transferred through the various solicitors involved. Sometimes there are very many transactions in the chain, all of which have to be coordinated. In such cases, a delay anywhere in the chain is likely to cause a delay to all the other linked sales and purchases, and the longer the chain, the more likely it is that there will be a delay somewhere.
Problems with the seller's title
The person selling a property does not necessarily have to own it, so long as they can transfer good title. But sometimes the buyer's conveyancing solicitor will discover there is a problem that needs to be sorted out before the purchase can be completed - for instance, the property is being sold by the executor of someone who has died, but a grant of probate has not yet been obtained. Sometimes the title is not yet registered at HM Land Registry and the seller's title deeds have been lost. In most cases, problems of this type can be sorted out eventually, but it may take time.
Delay in getting seller's replies to pre-contract enquiries
It is usual for the conveyancing solicitors acting for a buyer to send pre-contract enquiries to the seller's property lawyer. While a seller may have already completed an information form such as the Law Society's TA6 form, additional enquiries may be necessary. Sellers do sometimes take time to reply to such enquiries or have to obtain additional information or copies of documents. (It does also have to be said that lawyers acting for buyers often seem to delay in raising any additional enquiries or raise them piecemeal rather than in a single letter.)
Delay in getting information or documents from outside organisations
During conveyancing transactions, the buyer's conveyancing solicitor will often need documents - for example, a copy of a planning consent or an NHBC warranty - or some information about the property. If the seller does not have, this it will have to be obtained from elsewhere. This is particularly the case with leasehold properties, where information about the management of the building will have to be obtained from the freeholder or managing agents. In many cases, a fee is payable, so the seller's solicitors will have to find out how much the fee is, get payment from their client and then send payment to the organisation concerned before the document or information can be obtained - all of which can cause delays. In addition, some of these organisations can be very slow to reply, and little can be done to speed them up!
Avoiding unnecessary delays in conveyancing
Solicitors do their best to ensure there are no unnecessary delays - or at least they should do. Another important question buyers ask is how long do the property searches needed for conveyancing will take. For instance, if it is known that a particular local council will take a long time to return search results, your solicitor may be able to recommend an alternative such as a personal search or indemnity insurance.
It helps if sellers instruct a solicitor before a buyer has been found. The solicitor can then make sure all necessary documents are obtained and any title problems sorted out beforehand. This will help enable the sale to take place as quickly as possible once a buyer has been found.
Nobody can guard against unpredictable causes of delay - for instance, the seller dropping dead just before completion - but when delays do occur from an outside source, your solicitor should be able to advise on the best and quickest way to sort things out.
Of course, it helps to have a good solicitor to help you. Here at Homeward Legal, we aim to bring you a first-class conveyancing service at the best possible price.
All the solicitors firms we work with are accredited members of the Law Society's Conveyancing Quality Scheme (read more) and will ensure you move as closely to your deadline date as possible. So contact us now for your quote and we can get you moving without delay.