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Phil Spencer: ‘Councils add needless delays and expense to homebuying process’

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
Property guru Phil Spencer has criticised some councils for breaching property search targets and for the huge disparity in costs facing homeowners.

The expert has hit out at the “unjustifiable red tape minefield” awaiting homebuyers in some areas as research revealed one in seven councils are breaching national targets when it comes to completing property searches.

Property searches, which cover aspects such as planning and environmental checks, should be completed within 10 days. They take minutes to complete but require a council employee to search a computer database.

But researchers at Move iQ, the property advice site founded by Phil Spencer, revealed that of the 326 local authorities, Stratford-on-Avon District Council comes at the bottom of the league table. It takes 95 days to carry out a search while across England, 12% of councils complete this search within three days.

There’s also a huge disparity in the fees charged by different local authorities – up to 658%.

Four out of five (78%) local authorities charge more than £100 for a standard residential land search while a quarter of councils charge more than £150.

The cheapest at £44 is charged in Wakefield and takes just a day to complete, whereas Hammersmith and Fulham council charges £333.50 and keeps homebuyers waiting for 20 days.

The second most expensive council, Brent, charges £320 and takes 10 days to complete a search. London councils all appear in the top five of the most expensive fees charged for property searches.

Earlier this year, the government vowed to overhaul the lengthy delays in the process and the Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Heather Wheeler MP, wrote to all local authorities to remind them of the target.

But given the research, the government has pledged to investigate this area with a view to taking ‘appropriate action’ against councils breaching the 10-day target.

‘Unacceptable that homebuyers wait three months for routine process’

Phil Spencer, TV property expert and co-founder of Move iQ, said: “Our research reveals councils across the country are adding needless delays and expense to the homebuying process.

“Conducting a standard search can take minutes, but just eight councils across England and Wales are able to turn round a search request in a day – and a disgracefully high proportion of councils are failing to meet the government’s 10-day target.

“Whatever the individual councils’ reasons for the delays – lack of resources or lack of staff – it’s clearly unacceptable to force buyers to wait up to three months for what should be a routine process. To rub salt in the wound, the arbitrary fees charged by different councils have created a postcode lottery where a search in one area can cost seven times more than it would in another.”

Spencer added that at times, the process of buying a home can seem stacked in favour of sellers rather than buyers.

“In the current market, buyers need all the help they can get and councils should be made to end this unjustifiable red tape minefield – with a cap on fees and targets with teeth.”

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