Residential property searches by local councils have increased by as much as 1,400%, but many are taking as long as 40 days to complete, according to data released by Index West Midlands.
The number of requests has reached unprecedented levels, likely driven by house hunters looking to buy before the end of the stamp duty holiday.
Kate Bould (pictured), managing director of Index West Midlands Property Information, said: “Some councils had already positioned themselves very well and consequently have coped with the huge upturn in the market.
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“Typically, those that have not digitised and rely on older paper-based processes are the councils that are struggling to cope, and this is causing major delays for the home-buying process.”
Local councils are reportedly taking up to 42 days to return local searches on properties, but some are blaming intermediaries for the delays.
However, Bould said: “An intermediary, like Index West Midlands, is not cumbersome, but invaluable.
“They deliver a good customer service, that capitalises on their hard-earned good working relationships with councils.
“They also have the knowledge and expertise to anticipate and navigate the current issues – this is key to the processing.
“We are constantly shifting to adjust to the changes, and any hurdles arising from councils that all operate and hold their data differently.”
To this end, Index West Midlands has changed its own working patterns and resources, Bould added: “Our team is working literally around the clock to process and complete all the work and instructions, so we can continue to efficiently and effectively support our clients at this exceptionally busy and demanding time.
“We have taken on new people and introduced a ‘night shift’, so are operating an average 17-hour day to get through new instructions and review status of those already in the council system.
“We know of some councils that usually have an average of two requests for searches each week, but are now having as many as 30 search requests to process each week as sales volumes in the residential property market continue to rise.
“Our strong and long relationships with councils are helping our team get searches completed as quickly as possible.”
There are more than 340 local councils across the UK and searches are managed differently in each, so turnaround time usually takes anything from 48 hours to several weeks.
Bould said: “Many local authorities only have small teams working in the land charges departments, so during busy periods it can take longer for them to return search results – but volumes and days to process have never been like they are now.
“However, homebuyers already agreeing a sale are facing significant delays, with completion taking an average of 15 to 17 weeks to complete.
“This timeframe presents additional challenges if mortgage offers have been on the table for a while and are set to expire, but also clearly brings into doubt whether everything will complete on time for them to benefit from the stamp duty holiday.
“Those about to start their property search must accept the time it will take to find their home, and complete buying it, means it’s unlikely they will get the keys before the end of March – particularly with the Christmas holiday season on the horizon, and the chances of a second lockdown growing ever likely.
“The situation is exacerbated by the short supply of and high demand for conveyancing solicitors.
“A number of firms have already taken steps to stem the tide, turning away new business rather than risk reputational damage, and taking the decision not to accept new purchase instructions after the middle of November.”