Can the conveyancing system keep up with the record number of sales?

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Since COVID-19 hit and the UK was forced into lockdown in March, the economy has seen a downturn. When people were not allowed out of their homes except for essential travel, the housing market all but ground to a halt. Now that restrictions have been eased, the economy needs a boost, and fast, and it is the housing market that looks set to lead the way.

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Early adopters

Estate agents were amongst the first groups allowed to return to work, albeit with lots of rules and guidelines to keep them and their customers COVID-safe. The housing market is often used as a barometer for the state of the wider economy, so getting it moving again was a priority for the government.

The boost for sales has come in form of a stamp duty holiday until 31 March next year, with all parts of the housing chain seeing a boost to business.

Sales take time

Many conveyancing solicitors have seen an increase in business, with more people instructing both as buyers and vendors. Now that we have moved into the peak September time, with people traditionally keen to move and complete before Christmas, the conveyancing system is particularly busy. Reports in some newspapers suggest that estate agents are finding their sales are being hampered by the time conveyancing solicitors are taking to process work and the time between sale and completion.

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The Conveyancing Association (CA) suggests that based on current timings, someone wanting to sell their home and take advantage of the stamp duty holiday will need to have their property listed and on the market by no later than 26 September to complete by 31 March 2021. Of course, this is an average time and different conveyancing solicitors work at different rates.

There are also regional variations. This is generally dictated by demand – in some regions, such as the Midlands, it is estimated that vendors will be able to leave it as late as 6 November to list their home. There will always be exceptions, of course, but the average time from the acceptance of an offer to the exchange of contracts has stretched from 107 days to 125.

The process does not have to drag, but each party must play its part and do what needs to be done in a timely manner.

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