Delays To The Transfer Of Property During Covid-19

Following news that the number of transactions for value applications at Land Registry had been nowhere near close to the average for April, we asked conveyancers to let us know how they had been coping.

During the final week for March there had been over 55,000 applications completed, however this had dropped dramatically in April to just 440 for the whole month.

The numbers that were seen for April had been mainly expediated cases.

This delay has meant that many properties have been left unprotected and that firms had been formed to extend OC1 protections at a time when income had been dramatically reduced due to the close down of the property market.

We spoke to Parminder Sidhu, Senior Associate in the Residential Property team at Wedlake Bell, to see how the firm was handling the backlog of applications.

“During this COVID 19 pandemic and especially when people were first advised to start working from home, it was quite worrying to hear that the majority of the Land Registry’s caseworkers were not set up for home working.  It immediately became obvious that this would lead to inevitable delays with applications and requests.  This on top of the delays we have already been experiencing over the last few years.

There was a time when the Land Registry gave assurances as to the time it would take to deal with certain applications, whereas now all applications are dealt with as soon as they can be and with some, especially for example new leases, this can be in excess of 6 months.  I acted on a recent purchase of a new lease from a developer where, following exchange of contracts, I submitted an application to register a protective notice against the freehold.  The application for the notice was completed after 9 months, which was over a month after the purchase and lease was completed.

Onward sales are being delayed where parties are waiting for the Land Registry to update its titles and often it is a delay in contracts being exchanged or at the least a delay in completion.  The only way you can cater for these situations (if the buyer agrees which is not always the case) is with conditional contracts which by their very nature means some uncertainty and in today’s market that’s something everyone wants to avoid.

Lenders will often specify in their instructions to lawyers, the time within which their charges have to be registered.  The lenders will not take into consideration the delays when chasing lawyers for confirmation that their instructions have been complied with.  This can lead to unnecessary time and costs being incurred when having to reply to lenders asking why a charge protecting their security, is not yet registered.

Notwithstanding the above, the Land Registry is still a leading light in land registration.  It offers great services in terms of technical support on very complicated registrations and in being able to track down historic title documents.  More recently its service providing immediate downloadable information regarding local land charges (such as information on listed buildings, conservation areas and planning and enforcement notices) for a number of areas, has no doubt assisted in speeding up the conveyancing process.”

Now that the housing market has been released from lockdown we await to hear how Land Registry cope with the increase in numbers of applications over the next few months, especially if staff are to remain working remotely.

How has your firm been coping with the delays in applications being processed? Have you had any clients this has caused particular problems for or are you forewarning clients of the possible delays, especially those who may wish to ‘flip’ a property quickly?


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