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Is working from home slowing down property deals?

Simon Tollit | Sunday July 02 2023

The average time it takes to sell a house is now almost four months — it shouldn’t take this long.

Have you tried to sell a home recently? If at some point during the process you asked yourself, “Why is this taking so long?”, you are not alone.

Research by LonRes, a London property analyst, shows that the time from agreeing a sale to the exchange of contracts is the longest it has been in a decade (excluding a brief period during the pandemic). In 2013 it took 88 days on average to exchange contracts. In 2023 it takes 116 days — a whole extra month of stress and anxiety.

As anyone who has gone through the buying and selling process will know, any delay is unwelcome because the uncertainty places additional pressure on all parties. Delays are one of the most common causes of transactions falling through, often through no fault of the buyer or seller.

We were involved recently with the sale of an apartment in Chelsea, southwest London, that took over four months to get to exchange. There was no valid reason for the delay, other than it took eight weeks for the building’s managing agent to reply to inquiries. In our view this was an inexcusable length of time and it was only because of good communication between the vendor, the purchaser, solicitors and the estate agent that the sale didn’t fall through completely.

It doesn’t need to be this way. There is no defining reason why it takes so long. It is often a multitude of factors conspiring to make things as difficult as possible.

Work/life balance is now a key concern, with more people choosing to work from home, at least for part of the week. Solicitors, managing agents and mortgage advisers are, in theory, all able to work effectively from home. While many of the people we work with are professional and efficient, one must question whether this new phenomenon is part of the problem. Increasingly there is less communication, longer response times and a more relaxed attitude to working hours, all of which arguably have had a negative impact on the process of buying and selling.

Factor in the generally slow response time from local authorities in returning searches and you start to understand why selling your home is such a protracted business.

So what is the solution? Buyers and sellers could do more to expedite matters. I am not suggesting a return to the days of home information packs (Hips), introduced in 2007 by Tony Blair’s government to speed up the selling process but then abandoned in 2010 amid complaints they were expensive and unnecessary.

To increase the chances of a fast sale, sellers should instruct a solicitor to prepare the sales documentation. An energy performance certificate (EPC) is mandatory, but if you are confident that the property is being marketed correctly, commission the local authority searches on behalf of your incoming buyer (be aware that searches are only valid for three months). Equally, it would be wise to ensure the protocol forms are completed and sent to your solicitor, along with all other legal documents.

As a buyer, instruct solicitors without delay. Speak with a surveyor and make sure you understand the surveying process. Do this even before you have found your dream home.

In these turbulent times for mortgages and interest rates, ensure that your financing is in place (subject to valuation), have your proof and source of funds ready and arrange for your deposit to be easily available in anticipation of exchange.

These are all straightforward quick wins. While doing them as soon as possible may seem premature to both the seller and buyer, it will make everyone’s life easier, and hopefully lead to a swift and painless exchange.

Simon Tollit is a partner at Tedworth Property estate agency.