Why is buying and selling a home taking longer during the pandemic?

Under normal circumstances, it is generally accepted that the conveyancing process can take between 6 to 12 weeks to complete but the process can be complicated by many factors, including a pandemic.

When it comes to buying and selling a home, the housing market is not back to normal. Be prepared for delays.

Post-lock down housing boom

In July the market experienced a post-lockdown boom fuelled by pent-up demand, a rethink of our lifestyles and a stamp duty cut. According to Rightmove at the time, enquiries from potential buyers were up 75% in one year in Britain.

August and September continued to be very busy months for the housing market. UK house prices rose by 5% in September compared with a year ago, according to the Nationwide. The highest annual rate of growth for four years.

Furloughed, self-isolating and working from home

The high demand for house moving services has obviously come at a time of major shift in how people work within the industry. At the same time as the post-lockdown boom, conveyancers have all had to get used to working from home with many colleagues and support staff still furloughed until the end of October. Reduced staffing will continue to be an issue as members of staff will have to self-isolate or wait to secure a Covid-19 test after displaying symptoms.

Home computing

Shifting whole IT systems safely and securely to allow for remote access is time consuming and rarely plain sailing. There have been and will continue to be system failures and interruptions as IT departments furiously try to iron out systems and digital processes while keeping people’s personal data safe and secure. Even before the pandemic, we all know what it is like to have issues with the home wi-fi. This will all have an impact on the usual property timelines.

Pandemic complications

The practical restrictions put in place to stop the spread of the virus are inevitably leading to delays in processes across every aspect of our lives. Patience is needed and the government’s guidance on property sales during the pandemic calls on “all parties involved to be as flexible as possible over this period and be prepared to delay moves”.

As far back as March the Law Society said that Conveyancing – and completions – were likely to be heavily disrupted by the virus. As well as the usual complications, conveyancers and their clients will deal with requests for properties to be deep cleaned, a seller may not be able to leave the property upon completion because they have to self-isolate, failure or disruption to the banking system, unable to obtain search results because there is no-one available to carry out the searches, difficulties in obtaining witnesses, and issues in mortgage lending survey valuations.

Delays to finance

The pandemic has caused some major backlogs within banks and building societies. Usually a borrower would be able to get a mortgage offer approved by a lender within three to four weeks. But currently a borrower could be waiting 40 days to get a formal mortgage offer – sometimes even longer.

Delays to surveys

Lockdown and social distancing restrictions will continue to disrupt physical property surveys for valuation purposes during the pandemic. The autumn and winter months will see more local lockdowns and tighter restrictions to stop the spread of the virus.

Official government advice says that surveyors should not expect to carry out non-urgent surveys in homes where people are in residence, and no inspections should take place if any person in the property is showing symptoms, self-isolating or being shielded. It may be possible for surveyors to work online and carry out urgent surveys on empty properties, or those where the occupants are out of the property or following guidance to stay at home and away from others.

Delays to searches

The virus outbreak has significantly delayed local authority searchers. During the height of lockdown, searches were completely suspended in some areas. So, a local authority will be trying to cope with staff forced to work from home, furloughed or made redundant, as well as a backlog of search requests.

To speed up the process some home buyers will ask for searches to be done as soon as instructing a conveyancer and before contracts are received from the seller. However, a buyer is expected to pay for conveyancing searches and by ordering searches straight away they risk losing their money if the sale fails to go through.

A mortgage lender can also insist on several different searches, for example drainage and environmental searches, and the companies carrying out such searches will face similar pandemic problems with backlogs, bottleneck demand and staff shortages.

Talk to your solicitor

If you have questions or queries about the conveyancing process and how long it is taking, then do not hesitate to contact and ask your solicitor. There will be genuine reasons for the delay and they will be able to explain. If you cannot get hold of them immediately it will be because they are dealing with the same issues as everyone else during the pandemic. If you send an email, the team will reply at the earliest convenience.