It is that time of year when that question conveyancers prepare ourselves for... “Can I be in by Christmas?” starts to crop up. Most years mid to even late November, my answer is that yes, it is possible. However with the ongoing and what seems to never-going-to-end search delays, our “yes, it's possible” is now more often “maybe, but we are reliant on your Local Search”.
“How long will this take”, I am asked, and unfortunately “How long is a piece of string?” has to sadly be my answer. Unhelpful I appreciate, but really I have absolutely no clue whatsoever. It may take 5-10 days, it might take 5-10 weeks!
Some months ago, I spent a few hours calling the various authorities with which I deal to get an idea as to the timescales involved. An array of replies were given to me from 2-3 weeks all the way to one authority who were working on Search applications from 9 weeks previous. My favourite response though was from one Land Charges Department where a young lady who clearly didn’t work in the section told me that all of the Department had gone to the pub for lunch!
So why the delays? An upturn in the market? Absolutely. Local Authorities cutting costs and therefore job losses? Absolutely, I definitely think so.
After the crash, clearly there were a lot of cut-backs both in the public and private sector. What has happened is that the private sector reacted and were proactive in seeing the upturn which there has been over the last number of years and have put measures in place to deal with the increasing number of transactions we can expect. Sadly, the public sector are still in the pub thinking about it.
So, what does this mean for our clients? It means that when we, as conveyancers, estimate how long a transaction is going to take, we cannot simply refer to the standard 6-8 weeks as many of us do. We cannot guarantee that our search application will even have been looked at by that time. I remember the good old days when you could pay an expedition fee and get your search back within 24 hours!
I appreciate that this is highly stressful for sellers, buyers, agents and lawyers. Everyone wants to move as quickly as possible. Sadly, the consumer tends not to have a great deal of understanding about the content and risks involved that we as lawyers do, but it is an integral part of the legal process as we all know.
Will normal service resume anytime soon? I’d like to think so, if only so that we can start to give those realistic time scales to clients again. Unfortunately, though, I cannot yet see that light shining at the end of the Local Search tunnel.