Slow searches ‘not to blame’ for transactions taking longer to go through

A trade body has hit back at suggestions that slow local authority searches are slowing down transactions.

The Council of Property Search Organisations said conveyancers waiting until the last minute to order searches are the problem.

It said that the number of local authorities causing unacceptable delays are “few and far between”.

CoPSO chairman James Sherwood-Rogers was speaking after figures from View My Chain – reported yesterday in EYE – show that it now takes 120 working days to get from SSTC to completion.

Sherwood-Rogers said that searches are in fact currently taking just under ten days, within the government target.

He said: “It is not search turnaround times that cause delays; rather it is because searches are not ordered in a timely manner.

“Statistics from View My Chain suggest that the average time taken for searches to be ordered when an offer has been accepted subject to contract is 23 days.

“If this is the average, there must be a number of conveyancers that are taking considerably longer than this and they are distorting the picture.”

He said that where searches are seriously delayed, for example in Camden and Derby, conveyancers can use insurance.

He added: “However, nobody wants to rely on insurance when making a decision about their future home, because no amount of money can fix certain issues around contamination, flood or planning for example.”

He went on: “Whilst some conveyancers are reticent to order searches at acceptance of offer, just in case the purchase falls through, they may be inadvertently increasing the possibility of chains breaking by risking a delay.

“Searches are available in most areas of the UK in just over a week.

“Those areas where it takes much longer are well known, and a CoPSO member can provide local advice where a conveyancer is not sure.

“To blame the search industry for delays is simply wrong.

“In fact, the opposite is true – CoPSO campaigns tirelessly on behalf of the search sector to ensure that there is fast access to local authority data, and works hard with stakeholders to ensure conveyancers order searches at the right time, rather than at the last minute.”


Email the story to a friend


  1. mattfaizey

    This has been pointed out on here and EAT before by myself and others.

    No doubt the defence will pop up about results needing to be close to comp day…..

    Whilst everybody screams

    it bloomin well would be close to comp day ordering searches early IF you were quicker, more focussed and provided better service!’

    So, once searches are a myth dispelled who shall conveyancers try to blame next…..


  2. My Point Of View

    James is right. The problem lies with the time it takes a vendor’s conveyancer to open a file. There is no excuse for antiquated manual AML procedures, online solutions are readily available. 23 working days before a buyer’s conveyancer applies for searches is too long. Conveyancers need to look at their procedures and ask themselves if they are providing buyer’s conveyancers with Office Copy Entries quickly enough to enable them to start searches.

  3. Rob Hailstone

    You get instructed by your buyer client, you ask for some funds upfront to cover disbursements, including searches. You explain to your client the pros, and cons, of carrying out the searches asap and you act on their subsequent instructions.


    1. My Point Of View

      Do you discuss the correlation between the length of time it takes for a sale to go through and the risk of it falling through combined with the the consequent risk of the client losing whatever money they have paid out? Presumably you charge a fixed price for your service and the longer a sale takes to go through the less profitable it is for you.
      I could not believe this week I had a letter from a solicitor, presumably dictated/typed/handled by mailroom staff/posted, asking for a copy of the EPC which I had already told them was available at, just in case they had never heard of that public resource which has been in existence since 2007.

  4. David Clark

    You can kick the ‘blame’ football around but it comes back to the individuals involved in the transaction. Do they want to spend money ‘on risk’ ? or take it steady and keep their invoice as low as possible if it falls through.

    Everybody is happy for an agent to spend their cash on marketing, sales progression etc as most of us are on ‘no sale no fee deals. That’s the reason why our fees are higher. The conveyancers raise -in the main – an invoice if it doesn’t work out but they are under severe pressure to keep it as low as possible.

    I’m afraid I’m also starting to think that a HIP situation was better – but only on the pure mechanics of getting a transaction across the line. If you look at how it distorts the market with many people not prepared to give selling a try because of the cost of the pack. Maybe something else Mr Corbyn et al could nationalise or provide free of charge? That’s an attempt at humour by the way!


  5. Jacqueline Emmerson

    We use a private search company. They are very quick and very thorough. We also have automated access to Land Registry documents. But you must factor in the cost for the buyer. Do they want to spend a considerable amount of money on searches before receiving their mortgage offer? I have never permitted searches on my own properties before receiving a mortgage offer. Nor have I had a survey carried out until then. It would be akin to having the plastering done before the electrics. Not good project management.

    1. EAMD172

      What utter rubbish. As the survey is more expensive why don’t you have the searches done first to try and save yourself more? It’s like not putting the mortar between the bricks! Everything should be done simultaneously in order to ensure the swiftest possible transaction. If everyone worked your way the average transaction time would increase thereby meaning more sales would fall through increasing everyone’s costs except the conveyancers who get paid anyway

      1. Jacqueline Emmerson

        I’m entitled to your my opinion in the same way that you are. But I won’t call your view utter rubbish. I’m also entitled to spend my money in the way that I see fit. Why on earth would I spend money on anything at all until I have my mortgage offer? I’m Not going to throw my hard earned cash away to keep others happy. I wouldn’t expect others to do that for me either.

        1. AgencyInsider

          Well said Ms Emmerson.

        2. My Point Of View

          I am sorry Jacqueline but you appear to be looking for reasons to delay a transaction rather than speed it up. Many conveyancers take the view that they are protecting their clients interests but do they really ask their clients how quickly they expect the transaction to take? Research suggests that in almost every instance a client expects a transaction to take much less time than it actually does. I know from my own figures that the incidence of buyers’ mortgage applications failing is minimal, certainly not big enough to lengthen the sale by the time it takes to process the mortgage application and in so doing increase the risk of the sale falling through and not meeting buyers’ expectations. If you have assessed the incidence of your clients failing to get a mortgage and find that a significant are failing to get that mortgage then maybe you need to look for better clients, after all I imagine you do not get paid any fees at all from a buyer who fails to get a mortgage.

          1. Emmersons46

            Bizarrely getting the transaction done as quickly as possible is not the main concern for a conveyancer-nor should it be. Conveyancing is a negotiation not a pressurised timeshare purchase whilst on holiday (and half pissed) in Magaluf. The conveyancer is keeping the risk to the conveyancer’s PII insurance to the minimum whilst guiding the client through the process so the client knows precisely what he/she is buying-and the risks and ongoing risks-and keeping the lender happy as well. My firm completes the vast majority of transactions-in a staged way-with 6-8 weeks. very few do not proceed.

            Only today had an agent email the buyer’s solicitor and cc us in saying HIS client-actually our client-agreed to everything the buyer wanted even though this related directly to legal issues adverse to our client’s interests on the basis that “this way we get the deal over the line”. More like “Never mind the client-I need my commission!!”.

    2. ARC

      Well as a vendor I would chose not to sell to you as a buyer that is not confident enough to risk a few hundred quid on them being able to secure a mortgage offer or not is probably worried about the state of their finances and probably can’t afford what they are proposing to do and I would advise vendor clients the same.

      1. aSalesAgent

        Agreed. Our default position is that when an offer is accepted we put a halt on viewings but continue to market the property and take names and numbers of interested parties. If we do not get confirmation within two weeks that mortgage application and searches have been submitted then we resume with the viewings.
        If the buyer is not committed to getting the tranaction done swiftly then why would we commit to them?

        1. Emmersons46

          Because getting it done swiftly is rarely in the client’s best interests. That’s the point. You are focussing on what matters to you. Getting it done properly and with least risk matters most. If you are that keen, why don’t you pay for the searches (and take the risk) and pass them on?

  6. TwitterSalisPropNews

    We are only talking Council searches, as all others (except drainage taking 5 days) are instant.

    There is no defence for the widespread disparity between Councils over search times. Hampshire is 24 hours – what an example, though true, they don’t supply a Highways plan like the true champions, Wiltshire, who take 12 days but do a cracking comprehensive job.

    (And don’t get me started on to the subject of personal (non-official) Council searches – where the law firms fail to tell their clients the pros and cons of departing from normal practice of an official search and then has to raise questions of the selling lawyers later on because of the deficiencies (no highways plan when an official would have had one, or incomplete records which are showing as ‘insured’ rather than answered.)

    If Council searches are taking longer than say 20 working days, conveyancers and local agents should have a plan in place (i.e sellers to commission them during marketing) we did that when Wiltshire was taking 50 working days in the past. I recall paying out of our firm’s office account (i.e without money on account) and then recover it from the buyer – like HIPS. Someone had to step up and offer a solkution, so we were glad to.

    BUT – the real loss of time at the start of a transaction is:

    1. selling lawyers invariably taking 2 weeks to send a plan/legal papers out to a buyers lawyer. 2 weeks. It’s the oddest thing, yet we send it out a search plan by email the same day we receive the Agent’s memo of sale

    2. buyer’s lawyers still demanding money on account before they send searches off. We don’t. If we have been instructed, we get on with the legal work, and only once in 10 years can I recall a client saying I am not going to pay for the searches, So it cuts weeks off a deal, as we not only don’t wait for money, but we badger the selling lawyer for a plan from day one too. You have to get their attention, or you join their 2 week queue.

    So even at that early stage, we are weeks ahead and the agents are blown away.

    3. yes, there are law firms who won’t take client instuctions, it would seem, and who will not do searches until a clients mortgage and survey are in. Ludicrous. But also inconsistent, as they seem happy to incur their cleints in legal time by doing everything else.

    The reality is, there appears to be vast numbers of conveyancers who simply do not care. By that I mean those conveynacers who do care – who treat their clients’ files as if they were their own, and who are all over them and the deal flies. The dynamic conveyancers know who you are. The medicore ones know too.

    Personally, I am going in to work this morning and the first hour will be updates to every single client (cc to Agents) with exactly where we are, and what needs doing. No tick box internet case tracking nonsense. And I will be chasing down the other lawyers – as my files are in my cabinet because I am waiting on the other lawyer.

    (I haven’t even mentioned the “1st December coasters into Christmas” conveyancers – which we will have to face shortly. How many conveyancers will fail to secure even an exchange before Christmas for their clients….leading to Xmas dinner table conversation ‘you don’t want to sell / buy, surely’ leading to abortive deals 2 January)






    1. AgencyInsider

      Brilliant comment. Shame all other conveyancers don’t follow your excellent example.

    2. BryanMansell

      Well said

    3. Rob Hailstone

      All very pro-active Tim, and no doubt helpful. A couple of questions that I am sure other conveyancers are thinking, if not asking; Even though you occasionally use your own money do you ask your clients if they want the searches carried out asap (because ultimately they will foot the bill) and what do you do if the search becomes over three months old?

      1. aSalesAgent

        Also, when Wiltshire was taking 50 working days to produce official searches, what percentage of buyers would buy the searches from your firm and did they pay the full fee?

    4. LetItGo

      Its a pity that conveyancers dont practice what they preach though!

    5. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

      Absolutely spot on Tim, HOWEVER.

      You are in the tiny minority of people who control their destiny and also, it really does depend on how many cases you are running to be able to give such a personal service.

      The harsh reality is that many conveyancers are running HUGE caseloads (yeah – you can thank their bosses for signing ludicrous deals with panel managers for that) and being able to give such personal service is just not practical.

      BTW – I don’t understand why the author of the article is getting so excited. The report didn’t blame search times – its the POST search delays that are where the delay crimes are being committed.

      1. aSalesAgent

        Correct, about the author’s rant. Yesterday’s article stated:

        Milestone 2 – Searches ordered to Searches Returned: 10.2 days (UK average)

      2. TwitterSalisPropNews

        Peter – we are both always on the same hymn sheet.

        What would HUGE be in terms of numbers would you say per conveyancer? I am sceptical it can’t be done.

        Even knowing how many clients I look after, some conveyancers scoff at the idea of them having the same time as you suggest, but I do it – and comfortably so – and could double my clients and still do it.

    6. Emmersons46

      When you routinely cc in the estate agent, I presume you have your client’s authority to disclose issues relating to their case with a third party other than the other party’s solicitor otherwise you’d be in breach of DPA2018 [GDPR] and the ICO doesn’t like people who breach data protection legislation. Or are you prepared to take that risk?

  7. Emmersons46

    I have often wondered why the search companies and estate agent don’t also operate as Conveyancers given how easy it is and how organised they would be.

  8. BryanMansell

    Comment removed.

    PROPERTY INDUSTRY EYE TERMS & CONDITIONS #6. Users posting comments on the site may not post direct hyperlinks to other websites and especially may not do so by use of their username. Users may not use comments to promote a service or business.

  9. LetItGo

    Conveyancers are the problem and always have been. If they drop the ball all they do is ask another pointless question… when was the fence last replaced?

  10. mattfaizey

    Let’s not forget that how you ask has a bearing on the outcome,


    ‘i could run searches now but if it falls through you will have wasted your money’


    oh, ok, wow, let’s not do that then’


    ‘we can take a risk running searches now, upside could be as swifter and possibly more successful transaction. Downside, should somebody pull out you may have wasted the money.’


    oh, ok, lets do it, the upside is greater than the downside’


    It’s about time the excuse of ‘acting on the clients instructions’ was expunged.


    ‘So, tell me, when did you stop beating your wife…..’

    (If you don’t get that joke/point, Google it)




    1. Rob Hailstone

      Thank you Mr conveyancer, a little more detail would help me understand. You say there are risks involved if we spend our money on our searches now. How many and what are those risks? It has taken me a long time to save my deposit and legal fees etc, I cannot really afford to lose a chunk of money now. Equally, I don’t want to lose the property.

    2. Emmersons46

      It is not an excuse its in the Code of Conduct underwhich those regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority MUST operate. No choice mate. Can’t ignore it.

  11. devonlady

    Okay let’s get some perspective here.  I have been a residential conveyancer for over 40 years and in all that time have not seen one change that truly speeds up the entire process.   There has been various re-jigs on bits and pieces but overall the main problem is – we are all human and so are our clients!!!  If clients do not return their instruction forms for three or four weeks, that is their prerogative.  We are all told we should not do ANY legal work without formal instructions, signed ToB  AML compliance source of funds etc etc should all be in our files BEFORE we commence the sale or purchase.  The more administrative work we are required to do on a purchase (or a sale), the more interaction required by way of documentation from the client, the longer the process will take, and not every client is electronically minded.  Clients have their own lives to lead, illnesses, accidents, holidays, family issues, all get in the way.  Some times those forms get overlooked, or the clients feel dwarfed by the sheer volume of the initial paperwork provided to them at the outset (never mind what follows during the process!)
    Clear communication at the outset is a vital element in making the client aware that the sooner they provide everything we need the sooner we can move the matter forward.  Keeping everyone (conveyancers, agents and most importantly the clients) informed at every step of the process is also key (but bearing the ever pressing GDPR in mind too!). And on the flip side if you are working for the Seller, many times they struggle with the wording of some of the questions on the Property Information Form. 
    Our profession has consistently undercut conveyancing costs to the point where spending time with the clients helping them with the relevant Forms is not an option in a many cases.  We have been our own worst enemies in that regard – quantity over quality.  I am seeing firms charging what my firm was charging 35 years ago!!!
    So what is the answer – I leave you to decide, retirement beckons 🙂

    1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

      Very fair comments devonlady and a good insight into the reasons behind the delays.
      The answer is technology supporting service.  Yes – you will always need the personal touch to help clients but by using smart technology you can nudge people more effectively and reduce processing times in areas such as AML and enquiry handling.
      Problem is, it takes investment and if the practice manager has decided to rent you out by the hour ( a la motel ) because his pimp tells you to, then cash is always going to be a problem.
      Welcome to the DeathSpiral of panel-based conveyancing.

  12. TOZ4

    HIP was the right idear but didnt go far enough.

    In my humble opinion, the property cannont be offered for sale untill the vendor’s solicitor has in their possession everything, and I mean everything, that the purchaser’s solicitor will need to exchange, except a survey/valuation. Nothing will ever change untill seller’s solicitors do the, traditionally, purchaser’s solicitors job. Furthermore, lenders should be forced to administer an aplication to formal offer subject to valuation/survey.


  13. Fairfax87

    This research makes uncomfortable reading for lawyers, but confirms exactly what we found, when we analysed this – the main reasons being (1) lawyers want to get their Terms and Conditions signed first (2) lawyers ask for the search money in writing, rather than take a payment immediately over the phone (3) customers are reluctant to part with the money, if the urgency / importance is not explained  and (4) lawyers want to await receipt of the contract pack before they order searches.
    We started taking money immediately upfront over the phone and then ordering searches immediately, without awaiting plans to arrive from the other lawyer.  We found that in over 90% of cases, we could source the plan from the Land Registry ourselves for £3 and this exactly matched what the other lawyer then subsequently sent us.   
    The best part was that when contract papers did eventually arrive from the other side, we had most if not all the searches in place, so we could do a thorough title investigation in one go.
    Sometimes lawyers need to get out of their comfort zone and challenge the way they do things.

    1. Emmersons46

      1 is a requirement of SRA and don’t forget AML requires due diligence is completed before starting work. Estate agents should know that as the same law applies to them.
      2 risky (due to AML and source of funds) to take payment from a credit card/debit card over the phone but we do encourage payment via internet banking
      3 “urgency/importance” for/to whom?
      4 oh for God’s sake. If there’s such a need for speed why don’t sellers provide searches or better still the estate agent acting for the seller. 

  14. Alan Murray

    In further shock news – please wrap up it is chilly outside and not as warm as summer.

    Dear me to we conveyancers this is not anything new? Maybe when somebody comes up with a solution to the real problem of why the conveyancing process is worse now than at any time in the last thirty five years then it will be newsworthy. Until then all that happens is the usual suspects put their heads above the parapet like they are oracles and/or experts, and tell us all how inept we are or how clever they are? It is all getting a bit tiresome now, will 2020 bring about any improvements that is what we should be asking, and desperately hoping?

    1. TwitterSalisPropNews

      Alan – haven’t you heard? The solution is…reservation agreements    (emoji groaning face)

  15. Rob Hailstone

    I will see if I can pick the bones out of this (and the responses I have received direct from my member firms) over the next few days or so and see if any helpful and practical suggestions have been made that could be considered and implemented going forward.


You must be logged in to report this comment!

Comments are closed.

Thank you for signing up to our newsletter, we have sent you an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Additionally if you would like to create a free EYE account which allows you to comment on news stories and manage your email subscriptions please enter a password below.