There are just six weeks to go before the end of the stamp duty holiday, when the threshold for paying the tax reduces from £500,000 to £250,000 on 30th June. It will be reduced further in September when it reverts to its pre-holiday level of £125,000.
Home buyers are desperately hoping to complete their purchases ahead of the deadlines – potentially saving up to £15,000 in stamp duty – and may feel they are at the mercy of their solicitor or conveyancer. However, it can take between five days and several months to return local authority searches and this could well be the factor that makes or breaks the deadline.
So, can conveyancing be speeded up?
The local authority search comprises two parts:
- The Local Land Charge Register – which checks whether the property is listed or is in a conservation area, subject to a tree protection order, in a smoke control area or is in need of an improvement or renovation grant.
- The CON29 – which looks at matters relating to public highways, proposed new road or rail schemes, planning decisions that might affect the property, statutory notices, the existence of a compulsory purchase order or breaches of planning or building regulations.
Other searches may also apply, including water authority or environmental searches and even chancel repair reports.
Local authorities around the country turn round searches to vastly different timescales, exacerbated by the current busy housing market. The better performing authorities include East Devon District Council and Crawley Borough Council, both of which take around six days. At the other end of the spectrum lies Hackney Council, which takes on average 36 weeks.
The difference could mean buyers in different areas either able to get ahead of the June stamp duty holiday deadline or still be waiting to complete their purchase in October – and having to pay thousands of pounds as a result.
If you’re buying property, the local searches can commence as soon as the offer is accepted, which may speed up the process, but there are other ways of speeding up the system.
A personal search organisation can run searches alongside the council and often have a quicker turnaround time. Consult the list of companies that can help through COPSO (the Council of Property Search Organisations).
Another possibility is buying a no-search indemnity insurance policy, which can cost as little as £20 and would allow home buyers to proceed without local authority searches. However, if you intend to use indemnity insurance, be aware that not all mortgage lenders will be willing to accept this option. It is also worth remembering that, although you may be covered financially, if you find something wrong with the property after your purchase you could be in for a great deal of distress and retrospective work.
What else can go wrong?
There are plenty of other elements that can go wrong when buying property, that might prevent you beating the stamp duty holiday deadline. Your house purchase will often be dependent on a chain of other buyers and sellers, each hoping to complete their sale and/or purchase as quickly as possible. A delay on the part of any of one of these other properties will impact the whole chain of property transactions.
Check with your conveyancer that they are confident of achieving completion ahead of the deadline. If not, it may be worth approaching someone else.
Communications – It will help if you make sure you respond immediately to any correspondence or requests for documents and forms, and keep in regular contact with your conveyancer. It is worth asking to be copied into any correspondence with the seller’s solicitors, as you may be able to help with any queries.
Preparation – Getting your paperwork sorted before you buy or sell can help speed up the process. Sellers can make sure the title deeds are in order and that matters such as planning consents and building control documents for extensions or conversions are properly approved and documented. If you’re aware of anything that might delay the process, make sure it is dealt with before you begin to sell.
Funding – An early mortgage approval or agreement in principle before you look at buying a property will not only help your conveyancer make anti-money laundering checks, such as source of income and proof of funds, but in a competitive market may also help you find that property in the first place, by getting a viewing.
Survey – Engage a Chartered Surveyor in advance so that the building survey can be completed as soon as the offer is accepted.
Leaseholds – It is also worth noting that, if the property you are buying is leasehold, it can take longer to buy, as you will need an information pack from the freeholder which can take several weeks after you’ve paid up front for it, typically up to £500. Any queries related to this will further delay the process.
If you’re selling a property, you can speed up the sale by obtaining local searches before you put it on the market. You can also engage a solicitor or conveyancer in advance and prepare a property information form and draft contract before the sale.
And finally, if you really want to sell your property – be prepared to complete on your sale even if you have to move in with relatives or live in rental accommodation to bridge any gap between selling and buying.