Agents are warned that they must manage their own and their buyers’ and sellers’ expectations, as conveyancing looks set to become more and more protracted for years to come.
Serious delays in some parts of the country which were already being experienced just as property sales increased this summer, are likely to spread and to worsen considerably.
Local authorities are increasingly dragging their heels as they cut back on their search departments and fail to invest in technology.
They are doing so in advance of the Land Registry taking over the property search function – but this is a process which could take almost a decade.
The cutbacks come after what one firm has called a “crazy number of conveyancing transactions”.
Property search firm STL said that in July, it dealt with the highest transactions numbers since 2007.
STL said that July transactions are still being held up because of long turnaround times in local searches.
It said that these have been exacerbated by staff taking holidays, but said some personnel are not being replaced as they leave.
The controversial centralisation of Land Charges information has a very long timetable.
Secondary legislation is scheduled for October. It will then take two years to build the infrastructure, starting in 2017.
This, says STL, will be followed by five years to capture all the Local Land Charges data.
According to STL, many local authorities are still using non high tech methods which means physically inspecting old maps and paper files.
It warns that while privately owned search firms offer a more technologically advanced and faster service, they often have restricted access to the information required.
For example, Doncaster is only open for appointments three days a week, and Calderdale is only open on Tuesdays and Wednesday mornings.
Other councils require advance notice for an appointment. Examples include Flintshire which requires ten days’ notice, with Hackney and West Lindsey both requiring 20 days.
STL said some councils are already winding down their local land charges departments in readiness for when the Land Registry takes over.
It said that when staff leave, they are simply not replaced.
The firm cited staffing issues at Channock Chase, North East Lincolnshire, Oadby and Wigston, Weymouth and Portland, West Dorset and Wiltshire. It said that the last full-time member of staff has apparently now left South Hams in Devon.
Alan Thorogood, chief executive at STL, said: “Despite much controversy and with few passengers on board, centralisation of all Local Land Charges by the Land Registry will now progress as a result of the Conservative election.
“But the journey will be long and it’s unlikely to be all plain sailing.”
He went on: “Everyone in the industry needs to pull together to manage client expectations.
“We need agents and solicitors to assist in this as much as they can in the affected areas.
“While it’s not ideal and may be a last resort, when an extended delay occurs, search delay insurance is an option.”