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  • On the move – an insight into the legal process and why moving home in the summer of 2021 was so fraught!
On the move – an insight into the legal process and why moving home in the summer of 2021 was so fraught!

In this guest article we speak with specialist conveyancing solicitor, James Smith from Holden Smith Law about what to expect when moving house and some of the difficulties home-buyers experienced during the temporary Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) holiday given by the government during the pandemic. 

It’s widely agreed that moving house, whilst exciting, can also bring with it a fair amount of stress. So, in July 2020, when the government introduced a temporary increase to the nil rate band for stamp duty to £500,000 (rather than the usual £125,000) the inevitable stampede of people wanting to move house took stress levels to new heights.

This temporary increase was set to end in March 2021, but because of the backlog in completed property sales/purchases brought about by the tax cut, it was extended until 30th June, giving fraught property owners and lawyers some wiggle room to get house-deals over the finish line. Even then, it was extended further with the stamp duty payment threshold dropping to £250,000 until 30th September 2021. From 1st October 2021, the Stamp Duty free threshold will return to £125,000.

The stamp duty ‘holiday’ was a deliberate move by the government to ensure that the property market didn’t grind to a halt during the pandemic” explains James. “And it definitely worked! This ‘holiday’, on top of an already buoyant property market combined to create an extremely active market, the likes of which we have not been seen before.”

Typically, there is a three to four-month cycle to get a property through. But with greater demand for mortgage offers, land registry property searches, and property surveys, the cycle became about five to six months.

Digitising the conveyancing process as much as possible has been a priority for us as a firm” says James. “Clients expect swift communication and to be kept update, so we use an App which centralises all the communications and send push notifications for reminders when things need to be done, such as signatures to contracts or chasing search results. With so many different parties involved in a conveyancing transaction – banks, surveyors, land registry and estate agents – it doesn’t take much to cause a delay.”

“Our job is to undertake the due diligence on the transaction that will protect clients further down the line. It’s hard, because a bit like mechanics, clients are not sure exactly what you’re doing, and we’re asking them to put their trust in what we do.” 

France + Associates property finding service – a case study

France + Associates were appointed to find a suitable property for our client, S.

At the time, he was receiving intensive rehabilitation at STEPS Rehabilitation as a residential client, following a road traffic accident in June 2020 that resulted in a spinal cord injury.

Our client was living in an adapted rental property and had specific requirements for their new home, including a very particular set of suitable locations. They also required a property that was accessible in a wheelchair, had long distance views and wasn’t overlooked. The home also needed to accommodate future requirements of care needs and pool therapy.

Space for storage was important, as our client is very active in the gym and enjoys outdoor activities. They also lead a very active social life and have a family of their own.

Slater + Gordon were the solicitors on the case and relied on France + Associates to set out an accommodation needs report to establish the client’s requirements on the size of home and likely cost. This information was then passed on in multi-disciplinary team meetings to the insurer, to provide them with an overview of likely cost.

Our team worked closely with the client’s therapists and reviewed approx. 50+ properties in the South Yorkshire area. A handful of properties were visited with the client and dismissed as they were not suitable. This served as evidence to the Defendant that it was difficult to source a suitable property and when a home was in fact available, it was important that the client could proceed with funds in place.

A property was finally found that met the client’s requirements, unfortunately, this sale fell through, which was a common problem throughout 2020 with people being outbid or properties being taken off the market too quickly. This further emphasised the urgency of funding being in place.

Eventually, a property was found in 2020 which was deemed to offer significant potential in the conversion of a large (90sqm!) garage plus space around the property.

A set of different design options were put together, along with adaptation costs, to disclose to the Defendant, for capital cost of purchase and adaptation, to agree an interim payment to the client.

France + Associates agreed a budget with the Claimant and Defendant lawyers and negotiated an offer with the vendor. Due to the interest in the property, a higher than marketed price was agreed, to outbid another interested party (who also offered above marketed asking price). Thankfully, the offer was accepted.

Unfortunately, the team were met with a further obstacle when the sale of the property fell through due to a change of heart from the vendor.

Knowing that this property suited our client’s needs perfectly, our team wrote a letter to the vendor, making it clear that if they were to change their mind, our client would still be interested. Some weeks later, the vendor re-agreed a sale and the purchase process for our client commenced.

France + Associates were involved in providing advice throughout the purchase process, to provide comments on surveys sourced whilst undertaking the conveyancing searches. This included carrying out an investigation into a disused mine shaft within the property boundary. We also arranged for specialists in this field to investigate, assess and provide comment on associated risks, to reduce risk to the client before finalising the purchase of the property. It was also apparent that aspects of the property did not have planning consent and therefore we negotiated with the vendor to have this in place before completion on the purchase.

We moved swiftly to complete on the purchase by the end of June, and just before the stamp duty was increased in July 2021!


For more information on this project, click here.

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