How long does it take to move house?
It’s the question we get asked the most.
We could say, provided you live in a house (and not a flat) your property is registered at the Land Registry, you are selling only and there are no linked transactions (a chain) and your buyer has cash and does not require a survey (more fool them) and your buyer’s Conveyancers are on the ball – between 24 and 48 hours.
But we don’t.
Piece of String
We could try and use a piece of string analogy here – but, we’ll save that for later.
Simply, there are many, many components which make up a house move.
The likelihood is that other house or flat moves will be linked to your move and one or more will require some kind of finance.
The more links in the Conveyancing chain, inevitably, the more complex and time consuming your move may become.
The average time between agreeing to a sale or purchase and completion (moving-in day) is between 6 to 10 weeks. But, it can be considerably longer.
We’ll analyse what you can expect the conveyancing process to take and mark your card with some of the factors which could lead to a delay in your moving home.
But, let’s not be too pessimistic.
You could be lucky and your sale flies through and leaving you wondering what all the fuss was about.
Been there, done that, got the “I’ve Sold My House It Was A Doddle” T-shirt.
If you’re selling only and not buying on, you’re normally in the best position – provided you are not at the top of a chain of transactions.
One seller and one buyer (a first-time buyer, someone living in rented or an investor) would be your best bets.
A good Estate Agent will interrogate your Buyer to make there is no miscommunication.
Buying and Selling at the Same Time
Where you are buying and selling at the same time then the length of time it takes you to move will inevitably be longer than just a sale or purchase.
Assuming there are 2 to 3 people in the chain (and no-one changes their minds for whatever reason and pulls out) then a reasonable time frame would be 8 to 12 weeks.
Who or What Are the Main Culprits for Conveyancing Delays?
Now that we’ve identified the type of transaction that may take the longest let’s look in more detail at the reasons (or excuses) for such delays.
1. Mortgage Applications and Lenders:
We are living in different times.
The financial crisis of 2008 and ensuing years have made Lenders much more circumspect and cautious.
The main Lenders i.e. Banks’ and Building Societies’ mindset has changed and their aversion to risk increased. Financial Regulators also insist on less reckless lending than in the past
More than ever before the computer likes to say no!
The impact for you is that, where once mortgages were issued by the most efficient Banks and Building Societies within a matter of a couple of weeks or so, this process is now taking a lot longer. Although, recent adverts by some Lenders may indicate that speed of issue of mortgage is a key differentiator.
The key reason for delay in most chains is dependent on when the last mortgage offer is received.
It’s also a reason why we Conveyancers after weeks of inactivity find ourselves all hands to the pumps for a quick exchange and completion once the final mortgage offer has been issued.
2. Mortgage Panels
Where you are getting a mortgage to help you purchase your house or flat, your Lender will appoint a firm of solicitors who are on their panel of law firms to act. This way, the Lender ensures that their interests are fully protected before releasing the mortgage funds to enable the purchase to complete
In the majority of cases, the law firm appointed will be the same firm that you have also instructed for your Conveyancing.
3. Interlinked Chains of Transactions:
Chains, by and large, are part and parcel of the house buying process in England and Wales.
A Conveyancing Chain is where the purchase of a property is dependent on the sale of an existing property.
Chains are started by First Time Buyers or Investors (either with cash or mortgage finance) and end with someone who is just selling e.g a Builder, a deceased’s estate, or someone moving into rented or temporary accommodation.
Different countries have different methods for house transfers, such as Scotland. And we have a lot of opponents to our system in England and Wales.
The Conveyancing process does allow for buyers and sellers to withdraw from a sale or purchase for reasons which we explain below.
“Buyers” are able to make offers on property “subject to contract” which means they are not committing to buy the property until all their arrangements are in place, a survey commissioned and linked chains of transaction are complete, and also ready to go.
There is always room for increased efficiencies but my view is there are just enough checks and balances to ensure people are not forced or pressurised into buying a property they may later regret.
4. Whims and “Decision Making Disorders”
People are often to blame for chains collapsing.
Spring is the season when the serial “tyre-kickers” come out to play.
They play a game of let’s pretend we are selling but just really want to see how much their house has gone up in value over the Autumn and Winter.
Weeks go by and they may have accepted an “offer” on their property only to pull out later as “they can’t find anything suitable to purchase”
Estate Agents put up with these housing market menaces as, yes, every so often one of them does find a suitable property and they reach an exchange of contracts and completion.
Others can go many weeks with a deal agreed only to change their minds and pull out on either a whim or just indecision or they have found a better house to buy.
When we had our Estate Agency we regarded such types as plagued by “decision-making disorders” a line taken from a Realtor in the film “Grosse Point Blank.”
5. Bad Surveys
You should always have a survey carried out on a property before you buy. The reason, every so often, a survey may reveal hidden problems which either make the purchase not worth proceeding with or the defects would cost too much to rectify.
Subsidence or potential subsidence, for example, requires careful consideration and monitoring and may require a bespoke Insurance policy and/or underwriter continuing approval.
When a defect has been identified which requires a remedy then an exchange of contracts will be delayed until the remedial work has been carried out.
6. Unsuitable or delayed mortgage finance
We have mentioned that the last piece of most Conveyancing jigsaws will be the receipt of a mortgage offer.
Some offers fail to materialise because the Buyer did not meet the lending criteria. Sometimes offers are made which are not what the buyer was expecting and have conditions attached (e.g. retention of part of funds) which are unacceptable.
In such cases, the chain will have been going for several weeks before the bad news arrives and the chain breaks. The Seller then has the process of putting their property back on the market and awaiting a new buyer.
7. Job loss
Mortgage offers are conditional on salary or wage confirmation as to ability to repay the Loan.
Unfortunately, it does happen from time to time that one person in the chain loses his or her job and can no longer continue at that stage.
8. Legal Defects
Defects can in the worst case scupper or at best delay a Conveyancing chain.
By defects, we mean something that has either not been done properly before, or should have been done after the last purchase, such as planning consents or building regulations.
Some are trivial and can be remedied quickly, and others can take a little while longer.
Many defects or potential liabilities can be covered by Indemnity Insurance such as the payment of a Chancel Repair Liability or a breach of restrictive covenants (restrictions on what the property can be used for).
9. Local Search Delays
Local Authority Searches are commissioned early in the Conveyancing process. The reason for such searches is primarily to confirm adopted roads, give notice of any road or rail schemes and to confirm all necessary planning permissions etc have been properly obtained.
In our neck of the woods the local authorities return the results within a week or so but other areas of the country vary.
10. Leases and Management Companies
Leases are complicated, and what's more is that information about ground rent and service charge can only be obtained from the relevant Management Company.
Some Management Companies are very efficient and well run and the information is obtained speedily and with a moderate fee. Some, however, are inefficient and can take many weeks to be delivered.
11. Inefficient Conveyancers
Conveyancers solicitors can also be to blame for delays.
It had been the case that any solicitor, one that did not carry out conveyancing on a regular basis or specialised in other areas of the law, could carry out Conveyancing.
The good news is that gradually these law firms are being edged out by both by Lenders who refuse to use those firms on the mortgage panels and a flight to specialism under the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS).
Check to ensure your conveyancing solicitors are part of the Conveyancing Quality Scheme.
12. Inefficient Estate Agents
Communication is key.
Professional rules do not allow Conveyancing Solicitors to speak with rims other than their immediate Sellers and Buyers conveyancers.
A Good Estate Agent will ensure all parts of the chain are running smoothly. A Good Estate Agent will speak with others to ensure no mortgage applications go unheeded or unchased.
We find traditional “bricks and mortar” Estate Agents are better at sales progression than their online counterparts.
Sales progression is standard with traditional Estate Agents and only optional with the online agents. This is a false economy and will only add to the fall through rate of Conveyancing chains.
13. Managing Expectations
Which takes us neatly back to the original question.
It can be very stressful moving house with many built-in uncertainties.
Try and reduce your stress levels by not harbouring unrealistic expectations about how quickly you can move house.
If you condition yourself to an 8 to 10 week period, then you will be delighted if it takes less time.
Communication is key.
Do keep in touch regularly with your Conveyancers, Estate Agents and Your Lender or Mortgage Broker, if applicable, and your Buyer or Seller if you both agree.
Then, even where there is an additional delay, so long as everyone in the chain is aware of the reason, the stress levels will reduce and expectations managed.
Me, now what did I do with my piece of string…
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