Improving conveyancing system
The monthly Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and Ulster Bank Residential Market Survey indicates that the Northern Ireland housing market is performing well, especially considering all of the external factors causing uncertainty.
New build demand is solid and first time buyers are still eager to get their foot on the ladder. However, the sale and purchase of property has become a more stressful process for the vendor, purchaser and all professionals involved.
The recessionary years have taken their toll with lenders influencing the process both directly and indirectly.
The requirements and so-called 'red tape' have continued to increase, slowing the process down. What used to be a simple process has become more and more complicated, much to everybody's frustration and stress levels.
What is the problem? In many cases agreeing the sale can be the least complicated part.
The difficulty arises when the legal process begins with pre-contract enquiries, followed by mortgage offer complications, condition survey and valuation issues, and problems highlighted by property searches.
Issues such as the domestic garage constructed or the small extension added without statutory approvals, boundary issues, rights of way, septic tanks and so much more, are adding complications.
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As chartered surveyors we must highlight such issues where they are apparent and so must the solicitor. The time drag is when such issues have to be put right. We all know that dealing with statutory bodies or financial lending institutions is not the quickest or smoothest process.
What is also required is improved communication between the professionals involved, the estate agent, the surveyor and the solicitor.
In spring 2018 the National Association of Estate Agents, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Law Society of Northern Ireland recognised the need for improved communication between the professions by launching a memorandum of understanding. This document was a joint memorandum focused on making the conveyancing process easier for consumers.
It lays out various elements essentially requesting that the professions talk to each other, encouraging each profession to work collectively in making the process more efficient. I welcome this joint initiative and the professional bodies must be applauded.
What is key though is that this memorandum is only a recommendation to the members of the professional bodies, it is not compulsory.
But what is important is that there is a recognition the conveyancing process must be improved.
The system requires modernisation. There is a recognition among the three professional bodies but there must also be a recognition within government and in turn the financial institutions and statutory bodies. The main issues in the process stem from financial lender's changing requirements and information held by statutory bodies not being updated.
Other countries are superior in their structures which facilitates a smooth process. Why do we continue with this 'them and us' process? Solicitor v estate agent, estate agent v surveyor, solicitor v solicitor, and vendor v purchaser.
The process begins when a vendor instructs an estate agent to sell their property. It is at this point that most of the issues that come to light after the property is agreed for sale should be dealt with, solving potential problems early in the process.
If it was compulsory for the vendor to instruct their solicitor at this early stage and a pre-contract enquiry document completed, the vendor, estate agent and solicitor can work together in solving issues that may jeopardise a sale.
The purchaser and surveyor will also be fully informed, improving transparency and confidence.
The professional bodies recognise that improvement is required and have taken the initiative. But more is required. Statutory bodies and financial institutions also need to take the initiative. The process of improvement has just begun.
- Niall Smyth MRICS is a partner at Smyth Leslie & Co Chartered Surveyors and Estate Agents in Enniskillen