The sheer amount of time that conveyancing takes is probably the most frustrating aspect of buying property in the UK. Surely there must be a way to speed up conveyancing?
According to Rightmove, it currently takes an average of 150 days for a property purchase to complete in England. That’s 5 months! It can be even longer for landlords buying through a limited company due to the additional paperwork.
I worked as a business lawyer for 25 years. Although I never specialised in property, I’ve been through the buying and selling process numerous times, and also understand how law firms operate. That said, I can’t promise miracles, as the speed of the process is limited by the weakest link. But you can take simple steps to make sure you’re not the one slowing things down.
Here are 10 practical tips I’ve picked up over the years that have helped my purchases go relatively smoothly. They should also help your solicitor to do their bit to speed up the conveyancing process.
Good luck! Let me know if I’ve missed anything!
AT A GLANCE
- Tip 1: Hire good solicitors
- Tip 2: Confirm your instructions to your solicitors promptly
- Tip 3: Complete your solicitor’s client due diligence checks speedily
- Tip 4: Crack on with any buy to let mortgage process
- Tip 5: Ask your solicitor to expedite searches and enquiries
- Tip 6: Be prompt organising your survey
- Tip 7: Respond to your solicitor promptly
- Tip 8: Be a good client
- Tip 9: Get ready for exchange and completion
- Tip 10: Remember the estate agent can help
Tip 1: Hire good solicitors
It’s a false economy to use bargain basement conveyancers. As with most things, you really do get what you pay for with legal advice. You need someone who is efficient and responsive, delivers what they promise, is a good negotiator and has a common sense approach, grounded in solid experience.
You’re not going to get high service levels if you pay commodity prices. Given how much you’re investing in the property, it’s worth having someone good pushing the conveyancing forward for you.
Unfortunately the chain will only move as fast as the slowest solicitors (and lenders), but at least if you have a good solicitor, they can chivvy the others along.
Tip 2: Confirm your instructions to your solicitors promptly
The first stage of the conveyancing process is the sending of the memorandum of sale by the estate agent to the buyer and seller, and their respective solicitors. You will need to have instructed a law firm for this to happen.
Consequently, the quicker you formally instruct solicitors on the purchase after offer acceptance, the quicker the ball will start rolling. I give my solicitor a heads up when I make an offer, and confirm my instructions if it’s accepted.
Tip 3: Complete your solicitor’s client due diligence checks speedily
Your solicitors won’t be able to start work until they’ve completed their money laundering checks. The quicker they do these, the quicker they can begin.
There are two key parts of anti-money laundering:
1. Identity checks
For limited companies, your solicitors will need evidence of identity and address for at least two directors (or the sole director if there is only one), and a list of the names and addresses of all shareholders.
It’s simpler for an individual purchaser, as they only need evidence of that person’s identity and address. If you have used the law firm before, you are unlikely to need to prove identity again if you are an individual.
2. Source of funds verification
Another part of the money laundering compliance is to check the source of your funds. Therefore, they’ll ask for details of the source of funds for your deposit, and the rest of the purchase price if you’re not borrowing from a bank. This is often six months of statements if the deposit comes from a savings account, or proof of ownership of shares if you’re going to sell shares. By getting this ready, you’ll be one step ahead.
Many law firms do this electronically, which speeds up the start of the conveyancing process.
Your estate agents will also need proof of funds and ID before they can issue the memorandum of sale.
Tip 4: Crack on with any buy to let mortgage process
The mortgage application process for landlords can be time-consuming. As the mortgage approval process often delays matters, it’s important to give it priority and get it started promptly.
If buying through a company, there will be even more forms, especially if you need director’s guarantees. Many lenders require you to get legal advice on the guarantee from an independent solicitor not involved in the purchase. If so, this will need organising. Your usual solicitor will be able to let you know what you need to do.
Having a good mortgage broker to shepherd the process can make a real difference.
Tip 5: Ask your solicitor to expedite searches and enquiries
Confirm with your solicitor which searches you (and your lender) should carry out, and encourage them to submit the searches as soon as possible. They’ll need to have funds on account to do this, so again, the quicker you transfer the funds, the quicker you’ll get the results.
If you have any particular concerns, eg suspected subsidence or flooding, ask your solicitor to raise a specific question in the “Pre-contract Enquiries” early on.
Tip 6: Be prompt organising your survey
Often the survey delays the process. Ask you solicitor to confirm with your lender what type of survey or valuation they require. Click here for a link to the RICS’s explanation of the different types of surveys. Get any valuations or surveys booked in as soon as possible.
I often look up the planning applications and approvals in surrounding properties to see how the local council views extensions, and to see what is in the pipeline. You can also check the building control approvals for the property to see if (say) the newish boiler and windows have approval. It should be easy to find the local authority planning portal on google.
Tip 7: Respond to your solicitor promptly
“I’m taking my client’s instructions” is a euphemism for a solicitor saying that they are waiting for their client to read their last email and get back to them. Once of the best ways of speeding up the conveyancing process is to return calls and emails promptly.
Your solicitor will flag issues to you throughout the conveyancing process, and ask for your instructions (ie what you want to do). For instance, it is very common for there to be no Buildings Control approval for a new boiler or UPVC window. You will need to discuss it and decide on what action, if any, to take.
Your solicitor will send you a report on title, and it’s important for you to digest it and respond to any issues they flag.
Tip 8: Be a good client
Solicitors are human beings, the same as any others! When they have a long to do list, it’s only natural that they will prioritise things that they can do easily.
If you get a reputation for being a good client, responding to emails promptly, communicating without over-communicating and generally being reliable and reasonable, they are more likely to prioritise your work. Even if they don’t realise it! They’ll know they can get if off their to do list with the least amount of hassle. And that will speed up your conveyancing.
Tip 9: Get ready for exchange and completion
Make sure that everything is set for exchange and completion.
For exchange, you’ll need to transfer your deposit to your solicitors in plenty of time. Remember that sometimes BACS payments take a day or two to go through.
Make sure you send your signed and contract, and your stamp duty questionnaire, to your solicitor in advance.
Don’t forget you’ll need to insure the property from exchange with specialist insurers for landlords. I currently use Total Insurance, formerly Hamilton Fraser, as they are recommenced by the NRLA. They offer discounts to NRLA members (click here for my NRLA £15 discount referral code).
Tip 10: Remember the estate agent can help
Although the estate agent technically acts for the seller, as they receive commission, it’s in their interests for the transaction to complete. Often they can help by speaking to solicitors in the chain, and also chase the seller for missing information and documentation.
I hope you have found these tips useful. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter, if you haven’t already. You can click here to send me your email address if the pop ups aren’t working!