A number of property buyers risk missing out on stamp duty savings because of backlogs in the property market, conveyancing bodies have warned.
The introduction of the tax break has proved popular, with transactions and prices increasing sharply.
But delays in the homebuying process could see many purchasers miss the relief when the deadline ends on 31 March.
The Society of Licensed Conveyancers (SLC), the Bold Legal Group (BLG) and the Conveyancing Association (CA) are currently working closely together to look at ways at improving the home buying process, as well as manage the expectations of those currently engaged in the home buying and selling process.
The three organisations have issued a joint statement requesting that the existing stamp duty holiday is “extended to avoid further disappointment in the spring”.
The conveyancing bodies point out that several factors are currently contributing to delays in the process, and it is important that home buyers and sellers, as well as the estate agents serving them, are aware of the current circumstances and make allowance for them.
Simon Law, incoming chair of the SLC said: “Conveyancers are currently dealing with an unprecedented set of circumstances which are constraining the ability to progress transactions. The property market is seeing volumes not experienced since the recession, caused by a backlog of transactions from the period of lockdown, and many people re-appraising where they want to live as a result of the covid-19 epidemic. This is compounded by the current SDLT ‘holiday’ on property purchases under £500,000 which has added fuel to the fire. This and the impact of Covid-19 on the legal profession has resulted in conveyancers being stretched to the limit.”
It is not just the demand side that is creating a challenge to the conveyancing profession, but also the dependence on outside parties to progress transactions, according to Rob Hailstone, founder of the BLG.
He commented: “It is not just the demand side that is creating a challenge to the conveyancing profession, but also the dependence on outside parties to progress transactions. Covid-19 restrictions mean that many local authorities are operating under extreme difficulties and this has affected their ability to supply their own searches and also to provide access to data for personal search companies.
“In addition, many mortgage lenders are experiencing delays in supplying offer letters and the valuer profession is also under extreme pressure.”
Hailstone recently received an email from one BLG member explaining that the problems conveyancers are encountering are across the board.
The email stated: “There are delays with searches, surveys, mortgage offers and pretty much every other aspect of the process. Chasing, on the face of it seems sensible, but the more we chase people the more they get distracted. You might get put to the top of the pile for a few moments but doesn’t seem to last for long.”
Lloyd Davies, operations director at the Conveyancing Association, added: “Being able to plan for the current market circumstances has been an enormous challenge. The impact of Covid-19 created a vacuum of activity which has been followed by a tidal wave of property instructions.
“Not surprisingly during lockdown, most law firms furloughed many of their staff and indeed there were some redundancies. As the lockdown restrictions were lifted, firms were faced with the challenge of making work places Covid secure which inevitably meant that fewer employees could be accommodated at their place of work.
“The challenge then has been to choreograph home working alongside those back in the office with all the challenges that brings.
“Whilst firms have performed wonders in making such arrangements work it is inevitable that maintaining productivity is a real challenge, and of course allowance has to be made for the fact that unfortunately some employees have been affected by the disease.”
All three conveyancing organisations are asking clients “and their estate agents” to take on board and understand “that transactions are going to take longer than usual to progress and please be patient”.
“Continually chasing your lawyer actually makes them less productive and indirectly is a further cause of delay in the process,” they added in their joint statement.