Conveyancing: Why solicitors take so long?

Once you have had an offer accepted on the house you want to buy, you want to get on and move. Moreover, it would be so quick and easy if it was not for the solicitors dragging their heels, wouldn’t it? The wait can be frustrating with the threat that somebody along the chain might pull out, causing the whole thing to collapse, but the alternative could be much worse. 

Conveyancing: Why solicitors take so long?

To understand why, what seems a simple process of exchanging documents can take so long, you need first to understand how the conveyancing process works. Here we explain what it is that solicitors are doing while you are waiting for things to move on.

Instruct a conveyancing solicitor

Once you as a buyer instruct your conveyancing solicitor, they will begin the conveyancing process by making enquiries. First of all, your solicitor contacts the sellers’ solicitor to formally ask for a draft contract and any associated documents such as the property details. Once the documents are received, your solicitor will go through them to check they are satisfied with the detail and will contact the sellers’ solicitor to ask questions or to clarify some information. This is what is known as ‘enquiries’.

There can be several reasons why this process can appear to take longer than necessary. One of those is how responsive the involved parties are. Depending on what kind of questions need answering, you may be one of those parties and you will no doubt respond quickly as you are keen for a completion date to be set, but if the sellers’ solicitor is slow to respond or if the seller themselves takes time to make decisions or clarify points, then there can be a delay. 

Expect delays in complex cases

If a move is incredibly complex (maybe because of something in the contract or because the sellers are going through a divorce and communication has broken down), then delays can occur which are out of the hands of either solicitor as things cannot progress until enquiries have received a satisfactory response. Your solicitor will usually give you an idea of how long they expect the enquiries to take, and in most cases, this will be around 2-4 weeks. If it takes longer, feel free to contact them to ask why but do not assume that it is something that your solicitor is in control of.

There is a common misconception that once the enquiries are complete, that everything else is straightforward and will take no time at all. After all, the questions have been answered now, haven’t they? Unfortunately, not. Enquiries only deal with the initial questions and queries that arise from the documents exchanged. The next step is the solicitors’ searches. 

A good solicitor will make sure they begin this process as early as possible. Nevertheless, do not forget that if your sale is part of a chain, there could be numerous solicitors all over the country (and possibly abroad) whom you are also relying on to carry out similar searches and it only takes one of those to move slowly or to come up against an unexpected delay, and the whole process can be delayed.

What exactly are solicitors searching for?

It is the responsibility of the buyers’ solicitor to instruct the searches, and they will be looking for potential hazards such as the structural integrity of the building, any potential environmental hazards that might cause you expense in the future, and any other relevant information around the property or its surroundings that could be a cause for concern. 

Your residential conveyancing solicitor will be requesting information from numerous authorities and, once again, how quickly they all respond will have an impact on your waiting time. The average sale takes 4-8 weeks which can feel like a long time but imagine rushing this process and missing a vital piece of information which later comes back to bite you. You would instead the process takes 12 weeks, and nothing gets missed, wouldn’t you?

As you can see, many different issues can delay your conveyancing solicitor in proceeding with the purchase, and not all of them are in their hands. Of course, it could be that your solicitor has many clients or has a partner on long term sick, which is slowing down the process, but many other factors could come into play too. 

If your solicitor has an unanswered query, they will not want to complete. If they have raised the query, it’s because they need an answer to it and until that response is received, they will not want to proceed. You may be able to lean on your solicitor to push for a response, but ultimately you will have to wait until a satisfactory response has been received before things get moving. 

Often, the sellers’ solicitors will not see your query as an urgent task if there are other complications somewhere in the chain and they have other clients whose sale or purchase is at a more advanced stage.

Slow response from the third party

Many authorities are slow at responding as they have no vested interest in your sale, and there are other demands on them throughout their working day. Mortgage lenders, of course, do have an interest in the sale going through. However, their main priority is minimising their risk and, while they will be keen to get business done, they will not commit to a transaction until they are satisfied that the borrower is in a position to uphold their payment obligations. Again, this can be an issue anywhere along the chain. Moreover, there are other buyers and sellers involved too – some of whom may not be quite so keen as you to get the transaction completed. 

Remember that couple we mentioned earlier who are in the middle of a divorce? Well, what happens if they decide to reconcile their differences partway through the sale? They may delay while they come to a decision or could even change their minds altogether. If there are any delays, you should ask your solicitor to find out what the problem is, but in cases such as that just mentioned, it is fair to say that nobody other than the couple themselves will know the real reason why answers are not forthcoming. It may be that the only reason that you are given is that there is a hold up with the vendors signing the contract with no explanation as to why.

Your conveyancing solicitor should endeavour to keep you up to date with what actions they have taken when they expect a response and what they intend to do if that response is not received promptly. Always keep in mind that their role throughout the transaction is to protect your interests and as frustrating as it may be when things are moving too slowly for your liking, they will not want to risk your investment for quick completion. 

Unexpected issues raised in survey

Do not forget that if there is an issue raised on the survey for the house that you intend to buy, you will want to investigate that further to ensure that you are not met with any post-completion expense for essential work that needs to be carried out. Anybody else in the chain with a similar problem will want to do the same without being rushed so do be fair to everybody. That said, there is nothing wrong with asking why delays are occurring as sometimes, somebody along the line needs a nudge.

It is well documented that buying a house is one of the most stressful times in your life and often that is because there are delays which are out of your control and for which you have no explanation. This is the reality of home buying. When you bear in mind that it is one of the most significant purchases you will ever make, it is easy to see why. 

Impatience is understandable, but it is best to take the view that you can only do so much as much of the process involves documents being passed backwards and forwards between solicitors and other parties. 

This is all essential, and although you may want to get answers, they will not always be available. The most crucial factor is that before you sign a contract to buy a property, everything has been checked and approved by a legal professional so that you move into your new home safe in the knowledge that it is the condition you believed it to be when you put in your initial offer. No nasty surprises await you – or at least if there are, then you are protected as it will be a fault on behalf of a third party who will almost certainly be responsible for any costs associated with it.

Action Plan

To discuss any aspect of conveyancing or other legalities associated with home buying get in touch with one of our conveyancing solicitors, for a stress-free experience.

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