Sarah Newcombe, Head of Residential Property at BHW

A leading law firm has encouraged house buyers to act fast if they want to be in their new homes ahead of the festive period, following reports that house purchase completion times have extended to 16 weeks and with the Stamp Duty tax holiday coming to an end.

Fuelled by the temporary cut to stamp duty and house buyers’ desires to move to new territories due to an influx of remote working, the UK housing market has enjoyed a boom across the past 12 months – with house prices soaring by 13% year on year. 

In July, the UK hit its highest level of number of homes sold since records began with 213,120 sales registered with HMRC during the month. This surge of buyers has placed pressure on the conveyancing market, meaning buyers have found it harder to progress with purchases as quickly as they’d like.

While restrictions have now eased, there are still some reasons searches are taking longer than pre-pandemic levels, with ongoing staffing issues and the struggle to get valuers out to properties due to isolating throughout the ‘pingdemic’, as well as the obvious increases to workload for conveyancers.

Sarah Newcombe, head of residential property at BHW Solicitors, warns that it is likely buyers looking to purchase now will miss the cut off for Stamp Duty relief with it coming to an end 30 September.

But, with statistics showing that last year the busiest day for moving home was 18th December 2020, Sarah predicts that the market will remain strong until the end of the year as consumers will still be taking advantage of a sellers’ market in order to get the top price for their homes.

And, with homes taking just 26 days to sell versus the 49 days they took in 2019 as reported by Zoopla, buyers are competing for a limited number of properties, so buyers must be in the best position to make an offer quickly.

“While the demand for house moves will gradually settle as savvy investors’ interest subsides, we consistently see a mad Christmas rush year on year,” she said.

“Many buyers tend to have time off planned in at the end of the year and want to be settled in their new homes to spend time with family, starting the year anew and even want to know exactly where their Christmas tree will be put up!”

Noting the prolonged buying process and the increase in enquiries from buyers climbing up the property ladder, Sarah urges consumers to act fast if they want to be in ahead of Christmas, as even the process of acquiring a mortgage is also taking longer than it used to.

“With lenders being pickier about candidates due to furlough and financial situations, we’ve seen it become increasingly difficult for people to meet the criteria set by these lenders, which adds another step to the complications of moving home.

“If you’re partial to a particular property, you need to find that property first before putting your own house on the market. However, if your house could be difficult to sell, I recommend you get it on the market as soon as possible.”

Giving consumers advice on how to get on the market quickly, Sarah explained the entire process from a legal standpoint, so buyers know roughly what to expect during their purchasing journey.

“People often find that estate agents won’t take a property off the market until the buyer has fully instructed a solicitor, and so people should be encouraged to do that part quickly”, Sarah explains.

“Estate agents will accept offers and agree on sales, but it won’t normally come off the market without a solicitors’ details. From here, it is dealing with draft contracts. A seller’s solicitor will issue a draft contract pack, which must be reviewed by the buyers’ solicitors and enquiries raised. This could be to do with anything on the title, any works carried out on the property, or any extensions, to make sure it has the necessary planning permission and building regulations.

“We will conduct legal searches with the council and the water authority, as well as environmental searches to check for any issues.

“Finally, the process ends with getting the clients mortgage offer in and checking the mortgage offer for any special conditions,” she continues.

In regard to insurance policies, buyers only need to concern themselves with buildings insurance, which is the only essential insurance policy needed if you’re looking to take on a mortgage, with any other insurances purely optional.

With so many elements involved, combined with the blockades put in place by the global pandemic, it’s of little surprise that the completion time has been extended from the original 8-12 weeks to a lengthier 16 weeks.

While the emphasis is on urgency, it’s also important to remember that buyers should be both patient and prepared.

“It is certainly achievable to move before Christmas, but you must act swiftly”, Sarah reassured.

“However, you should also be aware of the ongoing impacts of the pandemic on the moving process and consider enlisting the help of residential property solicitors to ensure the process runs smoothly.”  

With a deadline of next week to get your affairs in order, are you ready to move before Christmas?

For more information on BHW Solicitors residential property services, get in touch with Sarah Newcombe by calling 0116 281 6236 or email

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