As we drift towards the property world’s favourite festival, it’s worth reflecting on the changes we’ve seen since last year when buyers were demanding exchange in 3 weeks so they could be “in by Christmas”. After all, who wouldn’t want to move in on the 23rd December so teenage children can sulk about a lack of WIFI or having Christmas dinner at the local Harvester because the “new” oven didn’t work?
2023 will not go down in history as the year of radical changes to the way that property is bought and sold. Despite the promised crash in prices never materialising, along with the “black swan event” of mortgaged home owners being forced out by rate rises, volume-wise, the market just bumped along the bottom. Which meant that investment in change was never going to be high on anyone’s agenda and we’re seeing signs that the Kool-Aid buzz from technology vendors is starting to lose its sparkle.
Given this lack of change, the Conveyancing Fairy didn’t have an awful lot of new ideas to work with and we finish the year with roughly the same speed of transactions, the same frustrations and the same finger-pointing as we started with.
It was supposed to be so different – all we needed to do was share data with everyone, as sharing is caring, after all, and this would enable us to walk, blinking, into a bright new dawn of a rejuvenated house buying and selling process.
Clearly that’s not happened.
So sharing isn’t caring?
There’s nothing wrong with the idea that if more information was available to everyone during the process, then this should make things better. The problem is no-one can agree what information should be shared, when, and with whom. Let’s face it, if you can’t define the problem then it’s pretty tricky to come up with a solution.
There have been reports that ordering the searches on the day a property is marketed can reduce transaction times. Given the average search return time is under 10 days ( yes, we know there are outliers but they’re a minority, by definition ) this doesn’t equate to a huge hill of beans, so what other factor is this influencing?
Then there is the worrying argument that by sharing information up front, buyers can make a more “informed” decision. That word should chill the hearts of those who earn commission selling properties, because it’s never going to be positive is it? Can anyone actually see the scenario where a prospective homebuyer says, “I hated the flat because it backed straight onto the District Line, but since I downloaded the five year gas boiler warranty from the YourFabNewHome online portal, I’ll offer £10K over the asking price.” Can anyone remember the last time a piece of information materialised during a transaction that was actually good news?
The home buying process mainly involves the management of risk, most of which is legal in nature. Yes, there are issues such as the removal of wooden floors, missing window guarantees or disappearing fridge freezers, and while these do take up time, there are the minority of cases. In our experience, it’s problems with ownership, leases, management companies and boundary disputes where time is spent. However, there’d be precious few agents promoting the idea that explaining to a first-time buyer ( and their patronising, over-bearing and know-it-all, dad, obviously ) that before making an offer, you should be aware that the co-freeholder moved to Vietnam years ago and no-one has heard from him since. Which is going to make buying the flat a bit of a struggle as the two lawyers argue about who is going to pay for the missing freeholder indemnity insurance.
What information should be shared?
It isn’t to say that it’s not useful to share information, but only with people who actually understand the implications involved. An agent will know, because, unlike the buyer, they’ve seen this all before, that defective leases can usually be fixed with a deed of variation; overdue service charges can be addressed by retentions and that Gas Safe certificates can be obtained pretty quickly.
Sharing information with everyone involved in a deal is not necessarily in everyone’s best interests. The seller who has lost his job and so needs to get rid of the property quickly, won’t be grateful for the buyer being given the details of a 10 year old neighbour dispute, where both parties have since kissed and made up.
The irony is, of course, that among the most common feedback we receive from buyers is that they don’t understand the legal wording and they don’t WANT to understand it. After all, that’s what they pay us for, and would we please stop getting in the way of them moving in by Christmas – they’ve ordered the turkey crown and can’t wait to use that new oven.
Peter Ambrose is the CEO of The Partnership and Legalito – specialists in the delivery of transparent and ultra-efficient conveyancing software and services.
Peter Ambrose: email@example.com, 01483 579978
The Partnership are an award-winning property law ﬁrm. https://thepartnershiplimited.com/about-us/