Diary of a high street conveyancer: 2nd October 2023

I had an interesting turn of events in a transaction this week. All of those of us who work at the coal face of conveyancing know that no two days are ever the same and that is the joy of the job as well as being frustrating when unexpected time consuming events occur in a client’s house move.  

I am acting for a middle aged couple in their purchase of a house. They are presently staying with friends. They found a house that they like and told the agents that they needed to move quickly as their present living arrangements were not ideal. The agent said that was not an issue; he told them that the sellers also wanted to move quickly and would move into temporary accommodation to allow the sale to proceed quickly.

Now I always warn my clients that this is what they may be told but it does not always work out that way if the sellers find a property which they want to buy – why would the sellers want to move twice? They would much prefer to move into their new home rather than into temporary accommodation, perhaps putting their belongings into storage.

My clients were keen to ensure that they did everything they could to move quickly.  Two weeks later, I was still waiting on the draft contract documents. I put my clients’ minds at ease by telling them that not all sellers complete their forms and questionnaires quickly.

However, I had my concerns, which actually follow on from my column last week.  The sellers were instructing a large conveyancing factory – you probably know the one – and as there was clearly a delay which was causing my clients some anxiety, I asked the estate agent if the firm had been recommended by him. He said yes.

My clients sent the agents an email setting out what they thought would be a reasonable time scale.  I was slightly alarmed at the line which said I would review the contract documents on the day I received them but put that to one side. The contract documents arrived; I was able to review them on the day of receipt and raised my enquiries and sent my report to the clients. I submitted searches.

Searches are now back. Enquiries are still outstanding as I have heard nothing more from the sellers’ lawyers.  The enquiries are not quick to answer but some of the questions should not have needed to be asked – the Property Information Form stated that there was an NHBC Certificate enclosed but none was sent. Others may take some time to come through to me such as the management pack, but I would always push to get replies quickly so we could make as much progress as is needed.

But the point I wanted to make was the way that the agent is now writing to me. The email I received last week told me that I needed to slow down and most importantly, that unless I slowed down, the sale would fall through. I was a little confused by this as I am well experienced at handling my clients and have already told them that the outstanding information may take some time to come through.

But the agent is cross with me as I have progressed the matter far too quickly. He told me that he was surprised that I had reviewed the contract documents on the day I received them; he told me that he was surprised that I had sent enquiries on the day I received the contract documents.  He was surprised that I had received search results so quickly.

And as I think about this, what is really bothering me is not that I have worked quickly in my clients’ best interests but that it is being turned against me – the agent has in fact told me that because I have acted quickly, there is a danger that the sellers will pull out of the transaction.

I found out during the course of the week that the sellers have only just found a house to buy and intend to synchronise the sale and the purchase – well of course they do! And I had warned my clients that this would happen! So it was interesting when my client told me that the agents had told him that the sellers would do everything to move quickly but that he should not hold out much hope it would be quick as all conveyancers are slow.

It is wrong that all conveyancers are tarred with the same brush. There are some transactions which move quickly if you have good firms on each side.  We all know that those transactions in chains take longer but we can manage our clients.

But agents, who recommend poor firms in return for a very large referral fee, should not make out that we are all the same. And they should not tell buyers that sellers are definitely going to move out as we all know from experience that this may not happen if the sellers find a house to buy… We all need to manage our clients’ expectations, but I think that because estate agents are the first to talk with and advise both the seller and the buyer, they do need to manage the expectations of all parties.

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