The first things clients ask, is how long it will take to buy or sell their house. The truthful answer is that we do not really know. It can be as quick as two weeks or as long as six months; but why?

Where to start?

When you instruct us we send you a client care pack out. If you are selling we ask you to complete various protocol form; fixtures and fittings form, property information form etc. If you are selling a leasehold apartment there are a couple more forms to complete. Now I would be lying if I told you these forms will be quick and easy to complete because, well, they will not be. If you are selling an apartment you will have a lot of work to do. It can take clients as much as one week to complete all the paperwork and get together all the documents we need. If we are selling, we cannot send a contract pack without these forms. If we are buying, we have to wait for the selling solicitors to send these forms to us.

Once all the protocol forms are ready the contract pack is produced to send to the buyer’s solicitors. There may be some documents that the seller cannot find for example planning permission, guarantees, receipts etc. These will be needed at some point during the transaction. With the contract pack in hand the buying solicitor can undertake searches and review the legal title to the property. Searches includes searches of the local authority, drainage authority and coal mining authority. They can also include environmental agencies, local chancel repair etc. Searches can take 2-3 weeks to be returned.

With the title reviewed and search results in hand the buyer’s solicitors can raise enquiries they may have about the property, title problems, missing documents etc. How quickly these are dealt with depends on how quick the seller’s solicitors respond or the sellers themselves deal with the questions.

If the property is an apartment, then the usual timescales go out of the window. Remember when the contract pack was getting ready, with apartments the management company need to complete their own protocol documents. To get the management pack we first need to find out how much the management company will charge and finding out that information is often a no mean feat. It can take days or weeks just to find out how the landlord will want to be paid just to provide the management information.

Finding out that information these packs can cost anything from between £100-£1,000 and of course, the solicitor will have to tell the seller how much and be put in funds before the pack can be bought. The big potential delay is actually getting hold of the management pack as even once paid the pack can take anything from 8-12 weeks to come through. It is simply impossible to estimate or control this and the seller’s solicitors can chase but can never give an accurate estimate at this stage.

Even when searches are back and all enquiries answered, and documents drafted and agreed, there can be a delay and uncertainty. It is called a chain and this it is a logistical nightmare. Sellers and buyers have lives, they have dates they cannot move house on, holidays, busy time for work etc. Imagine how difficult it is to co-ordinate all of this into one date that everyone can agree on. Of course solicitors can only speak to the solicitors that they are dealing with i.e. their instant seller or buyer, they cannot speak to anyone else in the chain and therefore must rely on estate agents to speak to other estate agents and other solicitors to try and agree a date.

You can see therefore that it is impossible at the beginning to estimate with any accuracy when completion will be. Of course you can rest assured that solicitors do everything they can to make completion as soon as possible as do estate agents as it is not until completion takes place that anyone gets paid for the work they do and therefore there is no benefit at all to anyone causing any delay. The next time a solicitor tells you they do not know when completion will be or that it is as long as a piece of string, please have some patience with them.

This articles is written by Bernadette McDonald who has over 15 years of experience dealing with residential and commercial conveyancing and property disputes and heads the property department at bmd:law.

This article is a summary of considerations and options and is not intended to constitute legal advice. It does not contain all the options available. If you require further information, please do not hesitate to contact Bernadette on 0151 722 8004