Property purchase delays reach unprecedented levels in 2024

The time taken to complete a property purchase in the UK has dramatically increased, with significant delays affecting the entire process. According to Propertymark’s latest report, ‘A Dickensian Legal Process,’ only 29% of transactions progressed from offer acceptance to exchange of contracts within 12 weeks in March 2024, compared to 78% in March 2016.

Increasing delays in property transactions
Propertymark’s Housing Insight Report highlights the growing frustration among buyers and sellers. Timothy Douglas, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Propertymark, commented: “It is not new news that the amount of time taken to complete a purchase on a home is becoming increasingly tedious and lengthy. However, it’s important more than ever considering that the time taken to complete is up to six months and longer in some cases, to understand the fundamental issues causing this.”

Agents’ perspectives on the delays
The report draws on insights from agents across the UK, identifying multifaceted and interlinked reasons for the delays. One agent summarised the situation: “I think solicitors are under-resourced and don’t get paid in line with doing what they do, so they take on too much work and have no sense of urgency. I think lenders are taking too long to send out mortgage offers. Generally, the whole system is much slower than the previous 30 years.”

Key challenges include an outdated sales process described as ‘Dickensian’ and administratively intensive. Legislative changes have increased the paperwork burden, overwhelming a system designed for much smaller information flows. One agent noted: “The system of property transfer was designed for much smaller amounts of information to be considered. There is now so much information in the system. It arrives on the solicitors’ desk at different stages and takes time to cross-reference the client’s best interest, lenders’ requirements and best practice as the conveyancer sees it.”

The need for modernisation
Despite the existence of technology to streamline processes, adoption and integration remain inconsistent. An agent remarked: “The system is awfully dated with solicitors having different methods—some do digital, some don’t. It needs to be streamlined and digitised.”

Delays in the production of required information from buyers, sellers, surveyors, and mortgage providers are also prevalent. Lengthy delays in local authority property searches are a significant issue. Resource constraints extend beyond solicitors to surveyors, banks, and local authorities, further exacerbating the problem.

Call for government action
Propertymark calls for policy makers and the new government to address these issues to speed up the house buying and selling process, which is vital for boosting the economy. Timothy Douglas emphasised the need for action: “Our member agents are on the ground witnessing delays and have brought their concerns and thoughts to the fore. Policy makers and the new Government at Westminster need to address these in order to keep the wheels of the housing market turning.”

For a detailed analysis, the full report is available here.

The growing delays in property transactions underline the urgent need for reform in the legal process, increased resources, and better use of technology to ensure smoother and faster property deals in the UK.