New legislation on conveyancing set to finally crack snail paced home sales

“I’m sorry, but your request is most irregular!” sniffed the patrician in the pinstriped suit, now peering at me with obvious disdain from behind his half moon spectacles and an enormous leather top desk.

hen in my twenties, I was buying my first house, a run-down old terrace in an area which would have been described in the brochure as “up and coming”.

I had hired the oily one to do the conveyancing on my Dad’s recommendation. I had been called in to his solicitor’s offices to sign my name on the documents to close the deal. My “irregular” request was to ask to see the deeds attached to the house that I had just apparently purchased.

“Do you have them here?”

“They’re here somewhere but you don’t need to see them. Most buyers don’t see them. It’s not necessary.”

“Well, I’m the one buying the house, so I’d like to see them.”

Tutting like a two stroke engine, he hauled himself up like a stung adolescent to pore over his shelves and located the musty-looking documents. He rolled them out on the table.

“Straight away I can see a problem. These aren’t the deeds for my house. They’re for the house next door.”

“Ah well, now you’re making a common mistake here,” said King Tut. “Those are the site numbers given when the houses were originally being built. The houses were likely given different address numbers when they were handed over to the first owners.”

“No. I’m telling you, that’s not my house. It’s the house next door.”

My patrician friend finally agrees to double-check for me, but only after I hint there could be a resulting stasis on my part to furnish him with his IR£3,500 fee (that’s €4,444) if he didn’t adhere to his annoying client’s latest “irregular” request.

The pinstriped one called some days later to confirm his mistake, describing the situation as, yes, “most irregular”.

I had just bought the house next door.

So not only did my solicitor make a complete bags of the one job he had to do on my behalf (for the price of a small family car — conveyancing was far more expensive in those days), but his counterpart representing the vendors had also completely fluffed her role on behalf of her clients.

First the title had to be validly secured by the vendors before it could in turn be assigned to me. Unwrangling that mess took nine months and also impacted the people up the chain. Those to whose house my vendors were planning to move almost had their own purchase cancelled; which would have railroaded their move and in turn, that of the people selling the house to me; and finally it would have killed my move.

Worse again, for some reason, all on this sorry chain gang blamed me, rather than the oily one and his ilk.

While the buying and selling process in Ireland has generally leapt into the 21st century with online sales, video walk-throughs, online bidding, online closing for auctions and even virtual-reality viewing; at least one part of the process still hasn’t managed to haul itself into the 20th century – conveyancing.

Anyone who has bought or sold a house will tell you that solicitors in Ireland move at a truly glacial speed. It can take a week to get a reply to an email and legal documentation still goes by snail mail. But with a six-month mortgage approval typically on the table, that snail’s pace has actually been derailing property deals by the bucketload at a time when as many as one in three agreed sales is now falling down.

Four months is the average period it now takes to conveyance a property, according to the Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers (IPAV), with some ranges even stretching to and beyond the nine-month gestation period of my first home purchase back in the early-1990s.

But there’s good news ahead.

Legislation introduced to the Dáil on Tuesday should (if enacted) speed up conveyancing and the legal transfer of property title while also eliminating many of the impediments that cause private house sales to fall through.

The Seller’s Legal Pack for Property Buyers Bill 2021 has been introduced by Sligo Deputy Marc MacSharry and, as the name suggests, provides for a collection of documents to be made available to aspiring buyers when a property is placed on the market for sale, thereby front-loading the current conveyancing process.

MacSharry, an auctioneer by profession, has himself said the current conveyancing process is not fit for purpose. “This legislation is designed to move the conveyancing process into the modern era, and shake off the time-gobbling, consumer-unfriendly and outdated practices that persist. It will speed up the entire sales process without adding any further costs. It will also help put an end to the practices of gazumping and gazundering.”

He also points to loan approvals lapsing because of conveyancing delays “costing aspiring buyers in their pockets and in terms of their time being wasted”.

The Sellers Legal Pack (SLP) would include documents such as: contracts for sale; title documents; architect’s certificate of compliance with planning permission and building regulations; evidence of rights of way and much else.

This Bill was facilitated by IPAV working in conjunction with its members, lawyers, representative bodies and other interested stakeholders. IPAV Chief Executive, Pat Davitt, adds: “Conveyancing delays can also be costly for consumers in terms of their incurring non-refundable costs, such as surveys, valuations and legal fees if a sale doesn’t proceed. They also facilitate those who, for whatever reason, may be more interested in frustrating a sale rather than being genuinely interested in proceeding with it.”

He points out that a process similar to the SLP is already in place for online and public auctions. Following its introduction on Tuesday, the legislation will next move to second stage at which point members will debate the legislation in full, at a date yet to de decided.

Meantime word has it that there are also moves afoot to legislate for a new stand-alone profession of property conveyancer. The house-buying public would certainly appreciate a flood of new practitioners into the process to speed it up and also make it cheaper.

Although the chances are that some of our legal friends might assert that such a move would be most, er, irregular.

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