Opinion: “Not sure that TV was worth it”

It’s late February 2031, and Joe, 11, is asking his father about the past;

“Dad, what did you do during the Great Pandemic of 2021?”

As a frown cast a shadow across his face, Simon turns wearily to his son, remembering a similar question he asked his grandfather about the Second World War.

“It was a difficult and stressful time, completely taken up with buying our first house”.

Joe looks confused; “But my teacher told me that everyone was volunteering in Boris’s Big Jab’s Army initiative giving vaccinations to the elderly and the vulnerable”.

“Not me son – I spent most of that year on the telephone to my lawyer asking why we hadn’t exchanged yet.  We did buy the house but it caused your mum and me so much stress we got divorced soon afterwards”.

“Sad story Dad.  Still, on the positive side of things, the court order did say that you got to keep the TV you bought with the money you saved on Stamp Duty.”

Uncertain holidays from hell

As lawyers, we are the current-day travel guides doing our best to help our guests enjoy their great SDLT holiday experience.  Sadly, unlike the brochures we’re normally browsing at this time of year, this holiday doesn’t have a happy sun-tanned ending.  Instead, we’ll all be sporting a much paler complexion and will definitely need another holiday to get over this one.

We’ve seen the past few months bringing radically different concerns from clients, most of which reflect a desperate need for certainty.  You know things are bad when having not been able to guarantee a selling client how many questions the buyers’ lawyer will ask, results in a 1 star review on Trustpilot.

Conveyancing is not an exact science at the best of times and gold-plated certainty is not available as an optional extra.   (Even in that really really small print where lawyers normally hide those extra charges such as for answering the phone).  However, given this commodity seems more valuable than Bitcoin right now, I thought it might be interesting to share our numbers to illustrate the impact the ever-approaching deadline will have on our clients.

A few numbers

Suffice to say, the cost savings for first time buyers are not life-changing and even second steppers will benefit from an increase in the value of their properties to off-set the additional tax.

Before the sound of virtual pencils being sharpened fills the air; our properties are mostly in London and the southeast.  Of the current caseload, for the 33% that were instructed before January this year, the average price is £538K.  This has a bearing for this article but obviously doesn’t reflect the national picture.

12% of our purchases are for first-time buyers, 75% of whom qualify for first-time-buyer relief.  Of those that qualify, if they miss the deadline 67% will still not pay any tax, with the remaining 33% paying £1574 more on average – the price of a Samsung 65″ Smart 4K QLED TV with Bixby, Alexa & Google Assistant.  ( This price does include a £300 discount from PCWorld).

For second time buyers, the 44% that are currently paying no SDLT, will owe an additional £8300 after March, compared to those just getting a discount, who will pay an additional £8800.    Given that typical price rises in 2020 are quoted as between 5% and 10%, i.e. between £26K and £53K on a sale, this does outweigh those additional costs.

This is the bit we’re worried about

While we’d all like to save money, the more worrying aspect are the people that are saying they cannot afford the property if they don’t have the SDLT saving.  The pressure these people are putting on chains is tough.

So here’s the thing.

Even in the good old days of 2019 when we didn’t despise everyone who came within 10 metres of us in Sainsbury’s, it never been possible to buy a property if you don’t have the SDLT.

Contrary to the nonsense peddled by ancient family friends who did a bit of property work in the 70’s, where a buyer has a mortgage, we have to show our clients have the money for SDLT before completion.  It has to be in their bank account and there’s no sneaking off getting a cash advance from Barclaycard as we’ve seen some people try.  Lenders don’t accept this.

Indeed, the only time the 14 day payment deadline after completion applies is to those who are not getting a mortgage.  In other words, the minority of cases.

When did it become acceptable to have people taking such huge risks with other people’s lives buying properties they potentially can’t afford to buy?

Conclusion

The amount of stress everyone in the property industry is seeing is completely out of proportion with the costs involved.

Those that can only afford to buy a property because of the SDLT holiday are playing Rishi Roulette.   But instead of playing with their own chips, they are gambling with the mental well-being of conveyancers, many of whom are suffering from being whipped by panel managers and a lack of support and protection from their management.

This appallingly misjudged affair will be felt by all those involved for many years to come.  Experienced lawyers will leave the industry in despair and for some clients it will inevitably result in separation and divorce.

Which seems an awfully high price to pay for that flat-screen TV.

Peter Ambrose is the owner and managing director of The Partnership specialising in the delivery of conveyancing service.

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11 Comments

  1. mattfaizey

    Great piece, badly titled.

    I hope the title doesn’t put people off reading it.

    The stress levels are frankly obscene. Yes, bank accounts are becoming stuffed like never before but costs are mounting.

    As a mover we’re now ‘flat-out’ to a point never before witnessed. We’re sporting injuries, kit shortages, vehicle issues and numerous other impediments.

    The client base are becoming more angry by the time they get to us. It’s not unusual now to be shouted at because dates are full. Good team members are being verbally assaulted by customers who think they can book at a weeks notice. Then blame us that we’re already full.

    In the next 4 weeks I suspect we’re headed for @160k completions.

    I hear that certain sections are pre-congratulating themselves that they’re ready (!). Well, might be wise to remember that the service sector for the housing market is only geared for @20-25% less than this.

    Even if stamp relief is extended the problem only gets moved.

    @2/3 of these completions need moving services.

    If we’re knackered, then they’re knackered

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    1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

      Fair point !

      Maybe should have called it “Playing Rishi Roulette?  When the fun stops, STOP”

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  2. smile please

    It would be a lot less stressful and people would not chase if conveyancers improved their communication with all parties.

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  3. Rob Hailstone

    You know things are bad when two of the usually very robust property commentators are indicating that stress levels are off the chart.
    “I see every day the extreme pressure this deadline is placing on our staff. Many are burning out having not taken more than a couple of days off in nearly a year. We’re a predominantly female industry and many have young children at home. Managing this workload in an office environment with schools open throughout would have been manageable but doing it at home, away from the immediate support of their colleagues, with children in the home or isolated in a bedroom office has been a huge ask. Their mental health has without doubt suffered.” Conveyancer The above sentiments echoes the voices of many involved in the business of home buying and selling.

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  4. Alan Murray

    Every day I read posts from conveyancers complaining how busy they are, but wo still have the time to moan. Then I think back to the early noughties when we worked at the current levels day after day year on year. And I think “am I missing something?”. Back then we didn’t have social media to post pictures of our dog, desk or dinner we put our heads down and worked, and we didn’t need Indemnity Policies, Search Agents, Handbooks or tick sheets to complete a proper job, we relied on expertise. Those of us putting our clients first are doing exactly the same now, using exactly the same qualities.

    True Conveyancing standards were before the pandemic at their lowest ever so numerous people and firms have been found out. But I really do think my colleagues in the profession need to get a major dose of perspective, especially those who have never even acknowledged the existence of the C-word. Over 120,000 people and rising have died, many families have been pushed into poverty, children’s education has been massively hit, whole swathes of industry are in danger of being wiped out, and unemployment is rising to levels not seen for decades. Yet Conveyancing as a result of the current tax holiday is flying. As a profession this is a feast, and whilst other areas of the economy are being battered people should think how lucky they are, rather than being disingenuous and complaining constantly how busy they are. Stop embarrassing yourselves and your profession, right now hundreds of thousands of people would love to be in our position. This will all end, and history shows that following the feast comes fallow. When the property market crashes conveyancers  will be made redundant right, left and centre and the self same people complaining now will probably then have all the time on their hands they need. There is a saying, be careful who you offend on the way up because you may end up passing them again on the way down. Maybe quicker than you all think.

    I know this view will be controversial and those with their heads in the sand or out of touch with reality will be the first bleating. I apologise to the many professional conveyancers out there keeping their heads down and doing a good job for your clients. This is not aimed at you, but as we all know there are an awful number of bad, incompetent Conveyancing firms and people out there letting us all down.

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    1. Rob Hailstone

      Different times, and a different world to the one we inhabited Alan. Back in the day, we could take a view and crack on. We did not have so much red tape and bureaucracy, or have to deal with ID, money laundering, overzealous regulators and some lenders who now wield their big stick with relish. You aren’t comparing apples with apples, and I would, respectfully suggest, you are out of touch.
      One question, you say:
      “There is a saying, be careful who you offend on the way up because you may end up passing them again on the way down. Maybe quicker than you all think.”
      Who is offending who, apart from you offending most of the conveyancing community?

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      1. Alan Murray

        Rob thanks for your somewhat pointless but utterly predictable response. Thank for for so succinctly proving the point I was making.

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        1. Gonzo38

          Alan’s an Angry Elf

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  5. BerksSurreyAgent

    It is ridiculously busy for conveyancers and I have to say the vast majority of those I am dealing with are doing a fantastic job, working all hours to get their clients’ moves through and keeping communication channels open with agents (those with whom I deal most often all copy me as the agent in on all contact between them and the other side, so there is rarely a need to chase/pester as I already know exactly what is going on), but there are some who even when business levels are normal/low see the agent as a ‘non professional’ with whom they have no reason to communicate, those invariably (plus a few ‘call centre’ type operations I can think of) are the ones letting the side down.

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  6. Andrew Stanton Proptech Real Estate Strategist

    The major reason that conveyancers are under crippling pressure is their mindets, and their avoidance of basic tech and software that most companies trading in 2021 use. How can paper and post, keep up with a digital world? Primark is going to cost its owners 1.3BN – why? Its doors were not open, Amazon an e-commerce platform saw its profits rise 30%, why? It is open 24/7 and it is based on looking after the consumer – UX is its prime function. For me closed mindsets = closed doors, the big winners in the next decade will be businesses based on speed, efficiency, and trading 24/7 AND MAKING PROFIT 24/7. Solicitors feel that the Fax is cutting edge, yet it was invented in 1843, and that shows the gulf between the average client in the UK who is 10 x’s more tech savvy than most senior partners, and expects things to be done immeditaely. With AI and machine learning the paper led world of conveyancing can be diced and spliced a lot quicker than an army of overworked humans can do it, better for their mental health better for the consumer who pays the bills and better for the business. And for those solicitors believing that their superior thoughts in their cranium can not be replicated by the digital neural pathways of machines – time to think again – the recent vaccines being rolled out worldwide did not come into being with an army of administrators tapping away on computers – producing paper documents that were sent out second class through the mail – mathematics and software did the heavy lifting, for goodness sake let it do it for the legal sector.

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    1. Gonzo38

      Think the scope is way too small here. The issue isn’t a solicitor/conveyancer Vs agent thing, it’s the inefficiency of the entire process with multiple service providers mixed with the expectations of consumers.
      This isn’t going to improve today, this month, this year unless there’s a change in the supply chain and working practices from top to bottom, and yes, that includes agency.
      In my opinion digitalisation of the legal process that is Conveyancing is desirable, but in all likelihood is a fantasy. Some elements can and are currently digitalised, but a halfway seems to cause even more frustration.
      This is far from a defensive of the current status quo, just simply a statement of fact. If we truly want to see an improvement we each must play our part in changing it.

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