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Property searches ‘becoming a lottery’

A ‘postcode lottery’ is affecting home buyers across the UK with some prospective purchasers waiting up to three months for vital property searches.

Property search experts IPSA say the delays stifling some parts of the housing market are sometimes unavoidable – but there are ways of speeding up transactions for the benefit of buyers.

Andrew Prismall is chairman of IPSA, the Association of Independent Personal Search Agents. He says the local authorities are under pressure, but that buyers’ solicitors and estate agents can support speedier outcomes by reviewing how searches are conducted.

“A recent report which shows buyers in Bolton were waiting up to 120 days doesn’t surprise us, sadly, and highlights the need for wholesale changes in how property searches are approached.

“A search agent with good local knowledge and good working relationships with their local planning department can often get a search done in a matter of days.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people now find themselves tied into packages from estate agents – especially online agents – which limits their choice when it comes to which conveyancers and search agents handle their sale.”

IPSA’s Make the Switch campaign has seen it working with the conveyancing sector to encourage the use of local search agents rather than out-sourcing to external panels which is where delays are common.

Andrew added: “They are often told they have to use the professionals recommended by the agent or pay higher fees. The problem is, these agents could be based anywhere in the country and are unlikely to have the local knowledge which is vital for a comprehensive and accurate search.

“They are also often deluged with cases to get through, which causes a jam in the whole system.

“It is time all buyers were free to choose a local, independent search agent, and we would like to see these “tie-ins” outlawed. Except in a few unusual cases, there is no reason why searches should take so long, and it is not fair that buyers are being caused more stress, more cost and in some cases even losing the property they want to buy, just because of an entirely avoidable jam in the system.

“Even when buyers aren’t tied into these package deals, some are waiting ridiculous times for searches. Sometimes this can be an issue within the council planning department, or there might be a particularly complex set of searches which need to be done – but usually, there is no obvious reason.

“IPSA’s #MaketheSwitch campaign aims to remind conveyancers that choosing an independent, local search agent usually means searches come back quicker and transactions can be completed more efficiently.

“Let’s face it, if you were an overwhelmed council land charges officer and you had a request from a local agent you knew well asking for three searches and a random name on an email asking for 200, which one would you deal with first?”

Property searches are required by people buying with a mortgage and recommended for cash buyers.

IPSA is a network of about 70 independent search agents across England and Wales who work collaboratively to deliver a fast, accurate and thorough search. They are all qualified and insured and must abide by the association’s code of conduct.

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