Time to get a move on

As I write this we are just a week away from the Budget and, unless we’re all deeply mistaken, an announcement on a potential extension/taper/smoothing of the stamp duty holiday.

If the rumour mill is anything to go by, we will get something of what the industry has been asking for – an extension to the end of June being the latest suggestion – though probably not what the industry would ideally like. Whether this merely kicks the can down the road by putting in place another deadline, remains to be seen, and part of me wonders whether an extension to June, will just bring in another significant group of transactions from those who think they can get their purchase through with the ‘extra time’.

Undoubtedly, recent months have been incredibly challenging for conveyancing firms, and that will obviously continue in the weeks/months ahead as you seek to ensure as many transactions complete as possible. But, at some point a line in the sand will be drawn and that should allow us also to focus on what is required moving forward.

That’s certainly been a focus for the CA in recent months because, while we recognise the importance of the here and now in terms of servicing clients, we have to look at what we can do to improve the home moving process in the future.

Let’s be frank, what is the likelihood of further Government intervention in the housing market, be it via stamp duty or other means? It is pretty high; indeed, almost inevitable. In recent weeks we’ve heard growing calls for the abolition of stamp duty, although that seems unlikely given stamp duty is one tool by which the Government can stimulate the housing market, increase demand (and supply), and provide incentives to bring more people to market.

With the housing market being such a fundamental driver of economic activity in this country, who is to say – for example – that the Government won’t come to the end of 2021 (or at any point in the future) and feel that further incentives aren’t needed. That will place the conveyancing back in the same place where we’ve been over the past six to nine months, and this could happen at regular intervals in the years ahead as the Government seeks to pump up the economy from the hit it has taken as a result of the pandemic.

It’s therefore imperative that we keep ‘moving’ towards a process which is easier to complete, more transparent, with less chances of fall throughs, and crucially takes less time to get to its end goal.

As you will know, this is not a problem that can be fixed with a flick of the switch or the introduction of one solution that is miraculously going to right all the issues. Recently, I listed what I believe are the fundamental changes which will be required if we are to improve the process, and the potential solutions which can greatly assist in this area.

Let’s just say that they numbered well over double figures, from the introduction and roll-out of the BASPI (the Buying & Selling Property Information) – and by the way in case your favourite estate agent is capturing the BASPI data to send to you, neither SRA, CILEX nor CLC dictate the due diligence you have to undertake but crucially the BASPI does capture all the TA6 information – through a similar take-up of Property Log Books, a new Seller Advised Service, digital ID and electronic signatures, digital deeds, specific leasehold legislation, and the like.

I could go on but a large number of pieces need to be fitted into the puzzle in a relatively quick timescale in order to push us to where we want to be. It, in my opinion, is also going to take a number of shifts in attitude and changes to how we go about buying and selling property, particularly around what we should be doing before properties are marketed, and certainly before offers are made and accepted.

It will need buy-in right across the board, from all parts of the chain and all property professionals, because this will be a different way of doing things, not just in terms of the property itself, but also in areas such as securing mortgage finance, and what conveyancers will be required to do.

The good news is that all the solutions are (just about) there, or at least in development, and ready to be used. These are the pieces of the puzzle – we just haven’t added them in yet, but they are relatively simple to introduce and working together would give us the full picture and create a far better home moving process.

At the moment it seems difficult to see the conveyancing/home-moving wood from the individual case trees, and that is completely understandable given the situation firms find themselves in and the level of work that they are being required to complete. But the fundamental improvements required and the ways we can secure that improvement, have not changed, and sooner rather than later, they need to be addressed and delivered upon.

We now need, quite literally, to get a move on.

Today's Conveyancer