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The conveyancing industry at breaking point?

conveyancing

When Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered the 2021 Spring Budget on 3 March, the property sector listened with bated breath. We were eager to find out what approach the Government would take: would it continue with temporary relief measures to support homebuyers amid the pandemic? Or would it choose to bring these policies to an end in order to focus on tackling public debt?

Of course, the Chancellor opted for the former. Most notably, Mr Sunak announced that the Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) holiday would be extended until 30 June. This means that for three more months, homebuyers are able to take advantage of the tax relief if purchasing real estate in England or Northern Ireland.

Introduced in July 2020, the stamp duty holiday has certainly kicked the property market back into gear, and the extension has fuelled activity further. According to MoneySuperMarket, first-time buyer enquiries increased by 472% in the first week of March when compared to the first week of February. Rightmove also received over 9 million site visits on the day the extension was announced – the highest volume of daily traffic recorded.

This is welcoming news for the Government. After all, the aim of the holiday was to ensure the market was buoyant and there was a boom in transactional activity, which should improve the health of the wider economy as the country transitions out of lockdown. The big challenge now, however, is ensuring that as many buyers as possible can actually complete on their transactions before the holiday deadline.

There is understandably a great of focus at the moment on the delays many buyers are facing when applying for mortgages. However, we should not overlook the strain being felt by those involved elsewhere in the property transaction process – most notably, conveyancing.

Under pressure

In the early months of 2021, it was clear conveyancers were under significant pressure to complete as many property transactions as possible prior to the original SDLT holiday deadline on 31 March. The extension provided some relief, but in reality, this has only delayed the inevitable bottleneck of sales that conveyancers will have to manage prior to end of June.

The effects are already on display. An in-depth analysis of public data by GetAgent.co.uk revealed that the total time to sell a property – from the initial listing to the completion of the sale as recorded by the Land Registry – is now sitting at an average of 295 days. It also noted that while sales are being agreed to, the delays arise at the closing stages of the transaction when the necessary legal work needs to be completed. Suddenly, a three-month extension of the holiday does not seem that long.

As with any line of work, the introduction of high demand and tight deadlines can drastically increase the chances of human error. What’s more, given the number of parties involved in a transaction, delays at one stage of the buying process can lead to frustrations and mounting pressure on other stakeholders. The fallout is significant – in the worst-case scenario, a buyer could ultimately miss out on tax savings of up to £15,000 if their purchase is not completed by the end of the SDLT holiday.

From a policy standpoint, it would make sense to extend the SDLT further or initiate policy so that sales agreed to prior to the 30 June will still qualify for the tax relief, even if the sale is not finalised until after this date. Unfortunately, this does not look like it will be the case.

For conveyancers, then, they must look elsewhere for a solution to the problem. Specifically, they must openly embrace technology to ensure they can streamline existing processes and communicate transparently and effectively with all parties involved in the transaction. By doing so, they will also reduce the chances of human error or unforeseen complications. Fortunately, the adoption of technology by conveyancing firms is not a new phenomenon; it is a trend that had already taken hold prior to the pandemic but has since been accelerated due to Covid-19.

Embracing technology at a time of need

As with large sections of the property industry, conveyancing firms have slowly been coming to realise the benefits of technology in delivering a superior service or achieving efficiency gains. The initial resistance to technology by conveyancing firms was not a stance taken by choice. Rather, I believe it was more of a consequence of these firms simply not having the knowledge.

Yet the pandemic, in preventing human interactions and travel, has driven home the value of technology. For example, eSignatures and automated communication can shave days off a transaction. Client onboarding, which typically takes around two weeks, can now be completed in as little as 40 minutes by embracing digital solutions. 

Taking all this into account, technological innovations like these are permanently transforming how conveyancers function. And the timing couldn’t be better, with the SDLT holiday naturally making it near impossible for conveyancers to meet demand if relying on outdated practices.

All that being said, I call for the property sector to be understanding of the pressures faced by one another at the moment. Every organisation is doing what it can to ensure transactions are completed before the deadline, even with the obstacles posed by the pandemic. That’s why InfoTrack is backing the industry’s ‘call for kindness campaign’, which asks solicitors and conveyancers to be mindful of their peers. We live in extraordinary times, and these coming months are set to be a busy period for everyone.

Overall, buyers and sellers are seeing first-hand just how technology can be used to simplify all parts of their lives. Naturally, these expectations are spilling over into the property and finance sectors. That’s why it is safe to assume that we will be seeing significant investment into technology beyond the SDLT holiday period by conveyancers. Doing so will ultimately serve to benefit the property sector as a whole.

Original Article from Financial Reporter 06/04/2021

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Sales surge after stamp duty holiday extension: Rics

for sale

There was a sharp increase in sales agreed during March, following the chancellor’s extension to the stamp duty holiday, according to the latest index from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

A net balance of +50 per cent of the surveyors questioned reported an increase in sales, which is the strongest reading since August last year. 

Respondents are anticipating sales activity will continue to rise over the coming three months, with a net balance of +35 per cent forecasting increases, the most upbeat reading since January 2020.

New buyer enquiries also surged, with a balance of +42 per cent of respondents recording an increase compared to 0 per cent the previous month.

This was the strongest figure since September 2020. 

But the pace of new instructions did not match the jump in interest from buyers, leading to a gap between supply and demand and rising prices.

A net balance of +29 per cent of surveyors reported that appraisals were up on the same period last year, suggesting more new instructions should come onto the market in the coming months.

Meanwhile, +59 per cent of respondents reported a rise in prices over the past month.

Surveyors responses suggest rising prices across all parts of the UK, with the strongest momentum in the North West, Yorkshire & the Humber and Northern Ireland.

This upward trajectory is expected to continue with +42 per cent of surveyors predicting prices will increase over the next three months and +60 per cent saying they will rise over the next year.

In the rental market, +36 per cent of respondents recorded increased tenant demand, up from +26 per cent in February. 

New landlord instructions were down according to a net balance of -25 per cent, resulting in upward pressure on rents. 

A net balance of surveyors +47 per cent expect rents to rise. 

The only part of the UK where rents are expected to remain flat or fall was London.

Rics chief economist Simon Rubinsohn says: “The results show that the decision of the chancellor to extend the stamp duty break and then taper its expiry has had an immediate impact on the housing market with all the key activity indictors rebounding in March. 

“However the headline numbers as well as the anecdotal remarks from respondents clearly demonstrate that across much of the market, demand is outstripping supply and that as a result, prices continue to move upwards.

“More worryingly, this is also being reflected in the price expectations data both at the twelve months horizon and beyond.

“Meanwhile the lettings market is displaying a broadly similar characteristic in terms of the relationship between demand and supply according to theRics data with the notable exception of the numbers for London. 

“Significantly despite rents moving higher, contributors continue to point to the less favourable environment for investors in the market as playing a key role in fuelling this imbalance.”

Wayhome chief executive Nigel Purves says: “While we are seeing a new-found confidence among many buyers and sellers, sadly this just isn’t the case for a large proportion of aspiring homeowners across the UK.

“Even with the stamp duty extension for an extra three months spurring on hopeful home buyers, there are many who find themselves overlooked and ignored due to their household income not meeting a mortgage lender’s criteria. 

“This is despite them already having a deposit saved and being able to afford the equivalent of mortgage repayments in rent each month. More needs to be done to level the playing field and provide people with alternative routes into home ownership.”

Metlife head of individual protection Rich Horner says: “Thanks to the chancellor’s extension of the stamp duty holiday, and the introduction of the 95 per cent mortgage scheme, it’s been another positive month for the housing sector – one that could have suffered severely had the stamp duty holiday ended abruptly.

“In the months ahead, we should continue to see a surge in homeownership, particularly as the new 95 per cent mortgage scheme will make buying a home a reality for more first-time buyers. 

“We’re also seeing more lenders offering their own competitive mortgage deals. “Despite the success of the measures, potential buyers need to be wary of their affordability and ensure they’re not living above their means, particularly as homes up to the value of £600,000 are eligible under the scheme.”

Original Article from Mortgage Strategy 08/04/2021

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Detached property price rises outstrip rest of market, says agency

detached

An agency has analysed sold prices since the first lockdown in March 2020 and February this year – and has found detached houses have outstripped the rest of the market. 

Across England the average price paid for a detached house has increased from £349,995 to £375,000 since the start of the first lockdown, a 7.1 per cent increase. 

At the same time, sold prices for all other property types have increased by 5.7 per cent from £210,000 to £222,000 – that’s 1.4 per cent lower than detached homes. 

The research – using HM Land Registry data – has been by Manchester-based agency Ascend Properties which claims it is the North West where this trend is most obvious.

Prior to lockdown, detached houses sold for an average of £280,000 across the North West, while other property types averaged £147,000 – a gap of 90 per cent. However, since lockdown detached homes in the North West have sold for an average of £299,995 compared to £153,000 for all other property types, meaning this price gap has now stretched to 96 per cent.

The South West ranks second, with detached homes up 6.8 per cent since lockdown, 2.3 per cent more than the rest of the market. Yorkshire and the Humber has also seen one of the biggest uplifts in detached property prices when compared to the rest of the market, with an increase of 5.4 per cent.

“There may well be an exodus of homebuyers leaving the capital in search of larger homes, but the figures show that the North West is actually leading the way where this trend is concerned” claims Ascend managing director Ged McPartlin.

Original Article from Estate Agent Today 08/04/2021

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Stamp Duty receipts drop just 6% in the past year, despite holiday

stamp duty

Stamp Duty receipts for the year to the end of February fell just six per cent despite the high profile SDLT holiday running from early July. 

Data from the HMRC Tax Receipts and National Insurance Contributions division show stamp duty receipts at £775m last month, £49m less than February 2020 when the figure was £824m.

HMRC is now on course to recoup £8.2 billion in stamp duty this tax year, despite the holiday on duty payable on most properties selling up to £500,000.

Jonathan Stinton, head of intermediary relationships at Coventry Building Society, says: “The stamp duty holiday has really helped to fuel the market over the past few months. However, the average home buyer isn’t going to have contributed one penny in stamp duty.

“These numbers are a sign of a healthy market across the board where higher value homes, second homes and rental properties [none of which would have benefitted entirely from the stamp duty holiday] are also exchanging hands.”

Another HMRC study released last month says stamp duty receipts in the final quarter of 2020 were 47 per cent higher than the previous quarter, but 16 per cent lower than the fourth quarter of 2019.

The Revenue said: “The change in receipts will have mainly been impacted by the introduction of the stamp duty holiday.”

Original Article from Estate Agent Today 22/03/2021

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Online lettings model the big winner from the pandemic – claim

online viewings

A veteran lettings expert says most rental activity will soon be online and conducted outside office hours – a further boost to the online business model.

Apropos, a UK-wide lettings firm, states that half its transactions now occur outside office hours with more people willing to view properties and agree contracts in the evening and at weekends.

The trend has been moving this away before the pandemic but has gathered pace in the past year according to David Alexander, joint chief executive of Apropos.

“Just as more people are consuming everything in their lives online, the property market is going the same way. A year ago, most in our industry would have doubted that potential buyers and renters would have been willing to only view properties remotely whereas now it has become the norm” says Alexander.

“They are happy to view remotely, deal and discuss the property remotely, and sign the contracts remotely. We are living in a digital age and the acceptance and trust that people hold for digital transactions is now extremely strong.”

He continues: “The recent mergers in the property market reflect these changes as large firms try to consolidate their positions through cost cutting measures. 

“A larger firm will have lower overall costs through administrative savings, but they will also need to close underperforming or duplicated branches in favour of the more profitable. 

“But the bigger picture is that the High Street is undergoing major reorganisation and the need for a bricks and mortar presence is lessening as the years go by. In five years’, time will every High Street have several estate and letting agents? I seriously doubt it.”

Alexander says whatever ‘normal’ is for the lettings market in future has yet to be identified, but he believes the online business model has been the big winner of the last year and will continue to grow. 

“Buying and renting property will be conducted mainly online for the bulk of the process at any time of the day or night or period in the week. Local advisors will need to be available to provide face to face advice, but it is unlikely that a UK-wide network of outlets will be required to service the sector in the future.”

Original Article from Letting Agent Today 12/03/2021

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COVID-19: An Update for Chelmsford Buyers and Sellers From Essex Homes And Lettings

Covid

We are delighted that Essex Homes And Lettings are able to remain open for market appraisals and viewings, however, we realise that we also have a social responsibility beyond that of being your local estate agent and recognise that as a buyer or seller, you will have concerns given the current situation with COVID-19.

We want to reassure you that the team at Essex Homes And Lettings will be following the Government’s health and safety guidelines thoroughly and ultimately will always ensure the wellbeing of our clients, our team, and our community comes first.

At the time of writing, it has been announced that restrictions around property viewings and transactions remain as per guidance given earlier this year. However, COVID-19 has not gone away and as yet there is no vaccine, so we will be carrying out our business in an extremely safe and highly-managed way to ensure our clients and staff are protected at all times.

Viewings

We are regularly reviewing updates on viewing guidelines from the Housing Minister, and will always ensure these guidelines are followed to the letter. Currently we will be adhering to the following:

Social distancing (2 metres) will be observed at all times. Our staff may remain outside the property whilst the viewing takes place.

If you would prefer to view a property virtually – we do offer this option.

Viewing LimitsAll viewings will be limited to either one viewing per property per day OR viewings will be scheduled apart, for example, with a delay between each viewing.

Time Limits: The time viewers spend inside a property will be limited to an absolute maximum of 30 minutes.

Viewing Numbers: We will allow a maximum of two people inside a property along with the owner or member of our team.

Contactless Viewings: Vendors will be asked to leave cupboards and doors open so that viewers to the property do not need to touch them. Viewers will be asked not to touch surfaces unnecessarily.

PPE: Our team members will wear gloves and masks while conducting viewings. PPE will be available for viewers if they do not bring their own.

Health Declaration: Vendors and viewers will be required to sign a declaration, stating that they do not have any COVID-19 symptoms.

Market Appraisals:

There are no specific valuation guidelines but we are undertaking similar precautions to our viewings procedure.

Further information:

As soon as we receive updates, we will provide further information.

Guidance for Sellers:

If your property is already on the market or is shortly coming to market, please reassure potential buyers by making sure your home is clean and safe to view. 

Still deciding whether now is the right time to buy or sell?

The team at Essex Homes And Lettings will be delighted to talk you through your options. We appreciate your circumstances may have changed or might be difficult right now, but we can help you talk it through in confidence. 

We want to help you make an informed decision, so please call us for an informal chat on 01245398466 or email us at sales@essexhomesandlettings.co.uk.

Above all, please continue to stay safe.

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SDLT transactions up 43% between Q3 and Q4

HMRC

Total SDLT transactions in Q4 2020 were 43% higher than in the previous quarter and 14% higher than in Q4 2019, according to the latest figures from HMRC.

The data shows all transactions for stamp duty where the transaction value is £40,000 or above.

Residential property transactions in Q4 2020 were 44% higher than in Q3 2020 and 16% higher than in Q4 2019.

Vikki Jefferies, proposition director at Primis Mortgage Network, commented: “The final quarter of 2020 saw a healthy number of property transactions as thousands of buyers capitalised on the Chancellor’s reduction in stamp duty. Over recent months, lenders and advisers have been working hard to process these cases and help borrowers benefit from the stamp duty holiday ahead of the March deadline, all while continuing to work remotely – something which has been no mean feat.

“Going forward, all eyes will be on the March Budget to see if an extension to the stamp duty holiday is announced. In the meantime, brokers will continue to play a key role in helping borrowers find the best product to meet their particular needs. For this reason, it will be up to lenders, distributors, conveyancers, trade bodies and other key players in the mortgage market to ensure that advisers have the resources and capacity they need to support their clients during this period, regardless of whether the stamp duty holiday is extended or not.”

Rob Barnard, director of intermediaries at Masthaven, added: “The latest statistics from HMRC show there has been a sustained increase in Stamp Duty Land Tax transactions in Q4. The restrictions placed on the industry in Q2 2020 due to the pandemic meant a near hiatus in activity, but the Stamp Duty holiday appears to have achieved its intended result, with market activity accelerating and a rush of transactions late in the year.

“However, the fast-approaching deadline for the end of the tax holiday has created a cliff-edge as buyers hurry to complete transactions while bottlenecks in the process continue to slow down property sales. Following the debate in Parliament this week, there have been renewed calls to extend the holiday and many are wondering why the government is choosing to take its foot off the accelerator now, while there is still so much pressure on the wider economy. Whatever decision is made, it should be made as early as possible and clearly communicated so that everyone can plan accordingly.”

Original Article from Financial Reporter 03/02/2021

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Stamp duty holiday warning: Lenders face delays as deadline approaches

deadline

More than half of buy-to-let lenders currently active in the market will fail to get deals over the line before the stamp duty deadline runs out at the end of March, new research by Mortgages for Business shows.

The specialist broker is warning BTL landlords that just 47% of the mortgage lenders who are actively lending in this sector at the moment could still make the deadline.

And the broker says even the lenders still capable of doing deals in this sort of time frame may well struggle to hit the deadline if solicitors or local authorities drag their feet.

Jeni Browne, director of Mortgages for Business said: “Typically, a landlord would want about 100 days to complete a purchase. Clearly, landlords don’t have that sort of time on their hands anymore and I’d urge them to do everything they can to push through a new buy-to-let purchase before the stamp duty holiday ends.”

While the stamp duty holiday means property BTL investors do not have to pay stamp duty on transactions under £500,000, they must still pay the 3% BTL surcharge.

Browne said: “Surveyors can’t operate at full capacity given all the preparation for a valuation they have to undertake to be Covid-19 compliant and that’s slowing transactions.

“Even if the lenders and the surveyors come through, you might get unlucky with your local authority – one search we undertook recently, took up to 145 days to complete.”

Original Article from Property Industry Eye 29/01/2021

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HMRC extends self assessment deadline – but there is a “sting in the tail”

HMRC

With the self assessment deadline less than a week away, many individuals, including self-employed agents, will be pleased to learn that self-assessment customers will not receive a penalty for their late online tax return if they file by 28 February.

To be clear, anyone who cannot file their return by the 31 January deadline will not receive a late filing penalty if they file online by 28 February.

But HMRC is encouraging anyone who has not yet filed their tax return to do so by 31 January, if possible.

HMRC’s chief executive Jim Harra said: “We want to encourage as many people as possible to file their return on time, so we can calculate their tax bill and help them if they can’t pay it straight away.

“But we recognise the immense pressure that many people are facing in these unprecedented times and it has become increasingly clear that some people will not be able to file their return by 31 January.

“Not charging late filing penalties for late online tax returns submitted in February will give them the breathing space they need to complete and file their returns, without worrying about receiving a penalty.

“We can reasonably assume most of these people will have a valid reason for filing late, caused by the pandemic.”

Normally, late filing penalties are applied to all returns filed after the 31 January deadline. Those penalties are cancelled if the customer has a reasonable excuse for filing late. However, this year HMRC is not issuing late filing penalties for a month to help taxpayers and agents who are unable to meet the deadline.

Late filing penalties will not be issued for online tax returns received by 28 February. However, there is a catch – interest will be charged from 1 February on any outstanding liabilities.

Nimesh Shah, CEO at Blick Rothenberg, said: “It’s amazing that HMRC have decided, with less than a week to go before people needed to file their tax return, to extend the deadline by a month.  This decision should have been made much earlier and will have caused certain taxpayer groups significant concern.”

He added: “However, the sting in the tail is that the 31 January deadline is important for all other purposes, including making your tax payment.  Taxpayers will be left with a surprise in relation to interest and surcharges for late payment of tax if they wrongly believe the extension also applies to paying their tax.  HMRC will still want the tax and any late paid amounts will attract daily interest at 2.6% and a 5% surcharge if not paid by 2 March. 

“In addition, even though the £100 late filing penalty will not apply, a tax return filed after 31 January is deemed to be ‘late’ for all other purposes – this can mean that the window HMRC has to raise an enquiry is automatically extended.  There may also be certain claims and elections that need to be submitted by 31 January (usually done via the tax return), and taxpayers need to be clear on the wider implications of filing after 31 January – they may not receive a £100 late filing penalty but there could be other consequences in relation to their tax affairs.”

Original Article from Property Industry Eye 26/01/2021

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81% of buyers and sellers undeterred by third lockdown

sold

81% of homebuyers and sellers are undeterred by lockdown 3.0, according to new research by Benham and Reeves.

The lettings and estate agent surveyed over 10,000 homebuyers and sellers about their feelings towards another lockdown, its impact on their decision to buy or sell and how they felt about the viewing process while Covid remains a high-level threat.

The results found that athird national lockdown has deterred just 14% of buyers and sellers from a purchase or sale in 2021, with 81% intending to carry on as planned.

In London, 18% stated they would now put their plans on hold, the highest of any region, while buyers and sellers in the North East were the least deterred with just 11% choosing not to transact this year.

Just 4% of those already in the process of selling or buying are putting their transaction on ice until the current lockdown has ended, while 91% of those will carry on, likely spurred by the current stamp duty holiday.

Again, London is home to the highest percentage of those deciding to pull out or delay a sale or purchase (6%), while 96% of buyers and sellers in the North East are undeterred.

While many remain keen to transact, the physical viewings process does pose a concern for the majority. 50% of those asked, stated they didn’t feel safe hosting or attending a viewing while 41% did and 9% preferred not to say.

Attending or hosting a viewing was the biggest concern in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the West Midlands, while those in the North East and East of England felt the safest about it.

Director of Benham and Reeves, Marc von Grundherr, commented: “Homebuyers and sellers remain largely undeterred about transacting despite yet another dose of lockdown restrictions and this is no doubt due to the dangling carrot of a stamp duty holiday that remains in place until March, at the very least.

“Understandably, physical viewings pose a greater concern although the industry remains well-positioned to carry out all stages of the transaction process in a safe and appropriate manner.

For those that are worried, there are things you can do to put your mind at rest. All agents should be sending you their Covid protocols anyway but be sure to request

“Any agent worth their salt will have their house in order where Covid compliancy is concerned. We’ve spent a great deal of time, money and effort to ensure we operate above and beyond the government guidelines as the safety of our clients is paramount. But for those that are still unsure, we also offer the option of video viewings, as we have done for our international clients for the last five years. So while some agents may find it a shock to adapt, we’ve managed to take it in our stride and it’s business as usual as we keep the wheels moving for your sellers and landlords.”

Original Article from Financial Reporter 12/01/2021