When buying a new property, most people spend a tremendous amount of time, thought, effort and emotion in choosing the right property. It can take many hours of scrutinising the internet portals for suitable properties, carrying out viewings and deliberating before finally making a decision as to which property would make the perfect home. After the excitement of having an offer accepted comes that anxious period of uncertainty before contracts are exchanged and the knowledge that the purchase is a definite reality.

Once a sale has been agreed it seems everything goes quiet whilst the legal conveyancing process is undertaken. It usually takes around five or six weeks to get to the point when contracts are exchanged. In this digital age one would have thought it ought to be done more quickly but house sales in some areas actually take considerably longer due to delays in one of the key steps involved in a house purchase; the local authority searches.

A search is normally instigated by the buyer’s solicitor and its purpose is to check whether there are any issues that might adversely affect the property or its immediate surroundings such as planning applications, road schemes, statutory controls, environmental hazards. The length of time it takes for a search to be returned is something of a lottery and depends on which council area the property is located in.

The variation in response times of different authorities is extraordinary. For example Wiltshire County Council (South) are currently taking a staggering 42 days before a search application is actioned. It is little better in West Wiltshire, however if one heads over the county border into North Dorset or Hampshire’s New Forest, the picture is very contrasting where search results are returned after only five days.

The problem is not down to the quality of the staff dealing with search requests, indeed they are often very helpful and dedicated people, but that there are simply not enough of them at a time when council leaders are slashing budgets.

How can the problem of search delays be mitigated? Here are some ideas:-

– A seller might chose to put searches in hand ahead of a sale being agreed. They cost circa £125 but have a limited shelf life of up to six months before they need to be renewed.

– If a buyer requires a search, they should pay their solicitor the necessary fee and instruct them to apply for the searches without delay.

– Some solicitors appoint third party agencies to carry out searches, check if this is the case because they can sometimes take longer.

– Subject to the approval of a mortgage lender, a buyer might consider taking out insurance (about £50) before the searches come back to allow contracts to be exchanged.

– Communicate. Make sure at the outset that everyone involved in a sale, including those up and down a chain are aware that there may be a delay in matters progressing so that there is a realistic expectation of timing.

The long waiting time for property searches can have a serious impact on the progress of a sale, jeopardising whether it reaches a conclusion and affecting the ability of home owners to move when they need to. This does not help the stress levels of buyers and sellers but also affects the fluidity of the local property market and the local economy.

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