Normally a house purchase from offer to actual move, can expect to take around 8-12 weeks, depending on the length of the chain and if any problems are encountered along the way. If the chain is quite short this could even be achieved more quickly, however the impact of COVID-19 has seen an increase in this timescale and can take many more weeks, due mainly to the backlogs and lack of resources.
The steps normally involved in selling and buying a property are as follows:
- Make / accept offer
- Instruct solicitor
- Instruct surveyor
- Mortgage approval
- Arrange removals
- Buyers / sellers questionnaire
- Exchange Contracts (pay deposit)
- Completion (final settlement)
- Arrange any insurances
- Collect keys / Move in
- Don’t forget the meter readings
- Change of address for DVLA and insurances
The longest part of this process is often the time between offer and exchange of contracts when all instructed parties are working to get all the paperwork done, such as the local authority and land registry searches, home surveys, questionnaires, mortgage application processing and contracts. COVID-19 has caused backlogs in lots of departments, due to staff being furloughed or being sick, and what with the property market picking up, making up for lockdown when very little happened and buyers trying to beat the stamp duty holiday deadline, has all meant extra pressure.
A Local Authority search is an essential part of the buying process, however many local authority turnaround times for fulfilling these have greatly increased, due to COVID-19. Onesearch direct compiles information on these timescales, so you can get an idea on how the local authority for the area you are buying in has been impacted, or contact the local authority or their website to find out more about their turnaround times. Example Camden currently 30 working day turnaround time, with Hackney unable to carry them out for some time, due to a cyber-attack.
Keeping on top of everything involved in the process can be a stressful and arduous task. If you have a good estate agent, they will take on some of the burden, but it definitely pays to keep your eye on what is going on, but at the same time accept that the wheels can turn very slowly indeed.
What can you do to speed things up?
Select a reliable solicitor with good reviews, don’t just go with the cheapest, ask about their workload and resources.
Choose a mortgage company that can provide an offer in principle, which will save time when offering on any property and progressing the purchase. Make sure you have all the documents they require, such as proof of identity, earnings etc ready, so that when your offer is accepted, progressing to mortgage approval is a straightforward step.
Also ensure that any offer received on the property you are selling is a reliable offer and how proceedable the buyer is. This is something your estate agent should verify for you. A buyer making an offer without even being on the market if they have something to sell, or no mortgage offer in place, can really hold things up. The ideal buyer is a cash buyer with no property to sell, but also greatly in demand are first time buyers with a mortgage offer in principle.
The key to keep things moving and on track is communication. If your solicitor is working on a set fee, then you shouldn’t be charged for every phone call, email or letter, so keep in touch with them, ask them to cc you on all emails and letters so not only can you keep track but also spot any errors or omissions that could hold things up later. Your estate agent is usually commission only, so make them earn it, and keep in touch with them so they can do some chasing of other parties in the chain.
Removal companies get booked up early, due to the current high demand, so it’s a good idea to get quotes as soon as you have a predicted completion date, so you can decide who you want to move you, then factor in their availability when it comes to exchanging contracts and setting a completion date. The favourite day for completions is a Friday, as that means you have the weekend to settle in, but this is also the busiest day, so if possible, it may be advisable to avoid it when the market is busy.