Ask anyone who is putting their property on the market about how long the legal side of things could take once they find a buyer and most will say about eleven weeks. Oh, would that it were only eleven weeks! Today the national average period taken to get from acceptance of an offer to exchange of contracts is almost double that.
Time was that a property transaction would take about twenty-eight days to exchange and another twenty-eight to complete. That was with typewriters, the telephone and the Royal Mail. Today, with all our modern technology, it takes about a quarter of a year just to get from offer to exchange. Of course the longer it takes the more things can go wrong; it all adds to the uncertainty about moving home and inevitably increases the cost.
Why does it take so long? Our litigious society means that more checks are implemented at every stage of the process. But it is not just the contract. In some parts of the country local authority searches can take up to ten weeks while in other areas they only take a week or so, and the national average is six to eight weeks. So there is a postcode lottery in searches that can hamper and even threaten proceedings.
Another issue is the reluctance of many mortgage lenders to lend on properties that do not fit the lending criteria. This is often the case if the property is subject to covenents, restrictions or uplift clauses, if there are structural issues or they are not of standard construction, if the property has an external management company or if the mortgage applicant is self employed - the list goes on!
Choosing solicitors, surveyors and mortgage brokers recommended by your local agents can help eliminate some of these issues but we need a system that doesn't bog down house buyers and sellers in legal and local government bureaucracy and lending criteria that doesn't rely on a box ticking exercise to get the country moving again.