Conveyancers on a Collision Course?
The stamp duty land tax (SDLT) holiday has created an artificial finish line of the end of March 2021 for parties to complete and benefit from the tax break. There is pressure from within the property sector for the holiday to be either extended, or for a gradual phasing out. If this doesn’t happen though, what are the chances of completing by the end of March if you’re only under offer now?
The pandemic has affected property transactions and data suggests the average period between an offer being accepted, and completion, is 20 weeks (usually 12-14 weeks) – almost 5 months. Whilst technology has been embraced during lockdown, and enhanced the process, for a number of reasons, pipelines have nonetheless increased.
The reasons for this are:-
- Delays at the Land Registry in processing applications and dealing with requests for information.
- Delays in obtaining management information for leasehold properties from Landlords/Managing Agents.
- Local authority search return times varying widely. Some authorities are subject to severe delays e.g. the London Borough of Hackney. They’ve recently suffered a cyber attack and the local housing market is at a virtual standstill – return dates are also expected to worsen, before they improve.
- Property lawyers overloaded with work are unable to progress cases as quickly as they would like.
- Surveyors are unable to offer quick appointments because of the volume of work, and there are delays in surveys being carried out, reported on, and issues being addressed during the legal due diligence.
- Lenders taking longer to issue mortgage offers, and deal with subsequent correspondence.
- Chains involving probate sales, or divorcing parties are finding that delays at the Probate Registry and at the Family Courts will further delay the chain.
- Difficulties caused to all stakeholders and to all clients involved in the process by lockdowns, restrictions, illness, self-isolation, quarantine, home schooling and the requirement to work from home.
Further, even in ‘normal times’, parties in a chain can only exchange contracts, and complete, as quickly as the slowest party.
There is usually a pre-Christmas ‘rush’ for completions though it’s not clear how intense this will be, this year. However, bearing in mind the above, it follows that no firm can guarantee that the March 2021 deadline will be met.
Exceeding client expectations is at the core of everything we do and so despite the fact that there are 4 and ½ months until the end of the deadline, we will be advising clients from now, that no guarantees can be given.
This doesn’t mean that we won’t give it our all to see the deadline met for each and every client; we will do everything we can to be proactive and push for completion. But whilst we can control what we can do, we can’t control what others do, nor indeed Covid!
We would rather be transparent and realistic than over promise and under deliver.