By the time you’ve viewed dozens of houses, negotiated a sales price and had your offer accepted, you might think there’s nothing stopping you from moving into your new home. Yet delays are commonplace, and new data from the property portal Rightmove shows they’re getting worse.
Rightmove says that that the number of homes sold ‘subject to contract’ – meaning the paperwork has not yet completed – rose by 6% year-on-year, to reach the highest level since 2014. Sales may be taking longer than before to get over the line due to a ‘log jam in the legal process’, Rightmove found.
Here, we explain some of the most common delays when buying a home, and offer advice on how to improve your chances of a hassle-free move.
1. Broken chain
Both you and your seller might be ready to go ahead, but what about your seller’s seller? Broken chains are one of the major reasons house sales slow down or even collapse.
A property chain occurs when you’re looking to sell a home before buying, or your seller is looking to buy a new home to move into. Your new purchase may depend on a number of other sales going ahead, and any delays along the way can slow down every link in the chain.
Delays can be particularly common if the conveyancers are working to a different timescales.
If you’re stuck in a chain, all you can really do is ensure your conveyancer is working diligently with others to get the move over the line.
- Find out more: check out our guide on how to manage a property chain.
2. Your conveyancer
Conveyancing delays are among the biggest bugbears for homebuyers, so you might find yourself spending days trying to contact your property solicitor to ask for an update.
These delays can range from issues on your side (such as expired mortgage agreements) to those involving the seller (such as misplaced title deeds). Conveyancers aren’t always the best at communicating with each other (or their clients), and the lack of a digitised process for sending documents can create real frustration.
With this in mind, it’s important to choose a diligent and reliable conveyancer. If you’re looking for a local option, you could base your decision on a recommendation from a family or a friend, or undertake your own research into their quality of customer service.
- Find out more: discover how the process works in our guide on conveyancing for buyers.
3. Your council
Local authority searches are an important part of the conveyancing process. This check will uncover whether there are any charges secured against the property, and reveal issues that may arise around, such as planning permission or building control in the surrounding area.
Theoretically, these searches can take anything from a few days to two or three weeks, depending on your council. In some areas, however, searches are taking longer than before.
Earlier this month, Surrey Heath council said searches would be delayed over a six-week period due to IT issues.
In Derby, meanwhile, one estate agent claimed in June that a council had a backlog of more than 500 searches, with the average turnaround taking 17-19 weeks.
Finally, Stafford Council apologised in December 2018 after a report revealed that searches took 95 days, leaving buyers with the longest wait in the country.
4. Land Registry
When you buy a home, the change of ownership must be registered on the Land Registry. This isn’t usually anything to worry about, as you’ll already have secured the property.
For some buyers, however, the Land Registry comes into play earlier in the process.
If you’re having something changed on the title deeds (known as a ‘deed of variation’), then it may be that your mortgage lender won’t release the funds until this is clarified in the Land Registry records. This is often the case if you’re having a term changed on a leasehold property.
5. Another bidder
Gazumping is an amusing word, but the joke will quickly wear thin if this happens to you.
Gazumping is when somebody else makes a higher offer on a property after you’ve already agreed on a price. Because deals aren’t legally binding until the sale completes, this could theoretically happen at any point of the homebuying process.
In this instance you might lose the property completely, or the seller may look to renegotiate or stall your purchase while they weigh up offers.
6. Your seller
If your seller has a major change in their circumstances, it could significantly delay your purchase or cause it to fall through entirely, regardless of whether you’ve already paid for a conveyancer or house survey.
Common reasons for delays and collapses include the seller changing their mind, the seller’s new property falling through, or the seller falling ill, losing their job or splitting up with a partner.
If the seller pulls before exchanging contracts, unfortunately there’s very little you can do to recoup the costs of house surveys and conveyancing.
If they pull out after the contracts have been exchanged (but before completion), you can sue them for any financial loss they have caused you.
7. Your mortgage lender
We always advise buyers to get a mortgage agreement in principle before making an offer on a house. Having that piece of paper will give the seller confidence that you’ll go through with the purchase.
It is possible, however, to get the agreement too early. These agreements tend to only last for six months, so if your property search takes longer, you might find you’ll have to re-apply and undergo affordability checks again.
If your circumstances or the lender’s criteria have changed, then this could put the brakes on your purchase. With this in mind, do your research and only apply for an agreement in principle when you’re ready to commit to your search and make an offer.
- Find out more: discover how to find the best mortgage deal
8. The survey
Getting a house survey is a vital part of the homebuying process, and it could prevent you from buying a dud.
Surveys can unmask problems with a property and provide a bargaining tool in negotiations with the seller.
In some cases, however, a poor survey report can result in buyers revising their offers downwards or even pulling out of the purchase entirely.
If your survey does unveil serious issues, take your time and listen to the expert advice before going through with the purchase.
- Find out more: weigh up the pros and cons of different types of house survey.
9. Your Help to Buy Isa bonus
Savers with a Help to Buy Isa can gain a bonus of 25% on their savings when they buy a house, but this needs to be processed by their conveyancer.
Conveyancers need to be a member of the Help to Buy: ISA Conveyancer Portal and must request the bonuses at least five days before the planned completion date (although much earlier is better).
This means it’s important to let your conveyancer know you’ve saved in a Help to Buy Isa and will be looking to redeem a bonus at the earliest opportunity.
10. Your exchange deposit
Generally speaking, exchange and completion dates are a couple of weeks apart. The so-called ‘exchange deposit’ needs to be paid when you exchange contracts.
This is usually 10% of the purchase price, so if you’re buying with a 5% deposit, it’s important to tell your conveyancer as early as possible so they can negotiate this on your behalf.
11. You (or your unrealistic expectations)
We can all be our own biggest enemies sometimes, and that’s especially the case during the stressful and emotional process of buying a house.
There are endless forms to fill, admin to stay on top of and phone calls to be made. Mistakes do happen, so check and re-check all of your forms before filing them to your conveyancer and mortgage lender.
It’s equally important that you’re honest with your conveyancer from the start and fill them in on any problems you can foresee.
Finally, adjust your expectations over how long this is all going to take, and don’t pull out of a transaction unless you absolutely have to.
If you pull out before exchange of contracts, you’ll lose any costs you’ve incurred so far, but if you withdraw your offer after exchange then the seller can sue you for any losses and you’re highly likely to lose your deposit.
The government claims that the average time from offer to completion stands somewhere between eight and 12 weeks. In reality, it’s sensible to prepare for the process to take as long as 14-18 weeks and be pleasantly surprised if it goes through sooner.