What can I do to progress my home sale before the Stamp Duty deadline?

Last year, the coronavirus pandemic upended the plans of anyone selling or planning to sell their property.

Despite major disruptions, the UK property market has nonetheless broken records in recent months. Some of this success has been put down to the Stamp Duty “holiday” announced last Summer.

With this Stamp Duty holiday due to end on March 31st, all the parties involved in property transactions are under increasing pressure to complete before the deadline. Fortunately, there is much you can do to keep things moving forward, whatever stage you are in the conveyancing process.

Even if your sale is unlikely to complete before the deadline, the following advice will help your sale to complete without unnecessary delay.

Could there be an extension to the Stamp Duty holiday?

The Chancellor remains tight-lipped regarding any possibility of an extension, though this could change any day.

The vaccine rollout is progressing well, and there is a real prospect of a return to normality in the coming months. Despite this, the artificial nature of the deadline may begin to put prospective buyers off making an offer until it becomes clear what will happen at the end of March.

If a market slowdown seems likely, the Chancellor may well extend the deadline, or implement a more gradual phasing-out to avoid a sudden crunch.

Can I still move during the 2021 lockdown?

Yes, but there are restrictions. The Government guidelines are clear regarding the process of actually moving house.

Viewings can be carried out, by appointment only. The guidelines also make it very clear that although removals firms can operate, friends and family outside your bubble cannot assist with your move.

The good news is that almost every other stage of the process can still be completed remotely, allowing you to move things forward even if restrictions tighten in your area.

Conveyancing solicitors have been working from home for some time now. This means that much of the conveyancing work needed to sell a property can still easily be done. AML and ID verification checks can even be done over video call, meaning that you don’t even need to leave the house to instruct a solicitor and start the process.

What to do if you haven’t yet found a buyer

Once you’ve finished the decluttering and DIY and your property is on the market, the temptation is to wait until you have found a buyer before you instruct a conveyancing solicitor.

Even in normal times, waiting to instruct your solicitor is inefficient. With the Stamp Duty deadline approaching, however, you should definitely get the legal work underway as soon as you can.

With delays throughout the process, it may not be realistic even for semi-progressed transactions to complete before the March deadline. However, if there is an extension, you want to ensure your sale is in the best possible position to take advantage of the news.

On the seller’s side particularly, there is lots that can be done to prepare for when a buyer is found, including:

* Completing the ID verification process (online and via video call)

* Filling out the property information forms (including the TA6 Property information form and TA10 Fittings and contents form)

* Discussing with your solicitor any questions or concerns you have about how to complete the property forms

* Finding missing paperwork mentioned in the forms, like electrical installation certificates or gas safety checks

Your solicitor should be able to take these preparations one step further. Once a buyer’s solicitor is sent the completed property forms, they will make further enquiries, asking for more detail or documents to resolve potential issues.

Having worked on the buyer’s side many times, your solicitor will be able to anticipate what most of these further enquiries will relate to. Your lawyer can discuss with you how any issues could be addressed, so you can agree on a course of action, and respond to the other side’s enquiries much faster.

For example, if you have had building works carried out on the property without the proper planning permission, your solicitor can recommend a suitable indemnity policy to protect the buyer.

What to do if you have accepted an offer

If you have found a buyer and the process is underway, you should aim to move the process along as far as possible.

You should quickly complete and return paperwork, to keep the momentum going. Respond promptly to any questions from the other side, and consider offering to pay for any indemnity policies for issues that arise during the conveyancing process.

Most local authorities are experiencing long delays supplying search results. There may also be other related aspects of the sale that take more time and organisation to complete under lockdown, such as a home survey. As the Government relaxes restrictions, there is likely to be a rush of requests for these services.

Many property firms have furloughed staff, and this means that businesses are short-staffed, increasing the chance of delays.

Anything you can do to move your sale forwards now, to mitigate the potential delays caused by these issues, is worth considering.

A warning to leasehold property sellers

Leasehold sellers are at risk of delays if they wait until after lockdown to start the conveyancing process.

To sell a leasehold property, your solicitor will need to get a pack of information from the managing agents or the freeholder. Some management companies can provide this “managing agents pack” quickly, but others are slower. Sourcing this information can cause weeks of delays (or even months in extreme cases).

Managing agents are currently swamped by requests for packs. It is highly recommended that you ask your solicitor to start the process for collecting the pack as soon as you can, to avoid the risk of unnecessary delays.

Planning for a missed deadline

Unless your sale is well underway, or you have a cash buyer and there is no chain, there is a good chance that delays could scupper your chances of completing before March 31st.

Although you should still do everything you can to keep the process moving forwards, you should also have a contingency plan in place if the Stamp Duty deadline is missed. If there is a risk that the sale could abort, it may be wise to discuss your options with your solicitor and your agent.

A recent survey carried out in January 2021 revealed that only 3 in 10 home live purchases are motivated by the stamp duty holiday. As a result yur sale may not be threatened by the deadline.

If your purchaser is focussed on the SDLT saving (and there is room in your budget) you could offer to make a contribution to the cost of the buyer’s stamp duty bill. A cash buyer may also be willing to complete without certain searches, if these are the cause of a critical delay. It is better to have these conversations now, while all parties have both a clear head and time to explore options.

Conveyancing solicitors are likely to be very busy in the run up to the deadline, so don’t count on being able to make last-minute plans. The preparations you make now will help to make the whole conveyancing process less stressful and can put you in a better position whether the Stamp Duty holiday is extended or not.

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Chris Salmon - Author Bio

Chris Salmon is a co-founder and Director of Quittance Legal Services. Chris has played key roles in the shaping and scaling of a number of legal services brands and is a regular commentator in the legal press.

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