The way the live: Slow legal process is blamed for gazumping

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The Independent Online
Gazumping flourishes in the English and Welsh housing markets because of red tape and some of the slowest conveyancing in the world.

According to a Government report published yesterday, says Steve Boggan, the delay between making an offer and exchanging contracts is so long in England and Wales that vendors often succumb to the temptation of a higher offer.

Red tape and infuriatingly slow conveyancing are encouraging gazumping in house sales, says a government report published yesterday. On the positive side, however, the study - set up following a flurry of reports of gazumping in the booming housing market - found that conveyancing costs in England and Wales were among the lowest in the world.

Among the countries looked at by a team led by housing minister Hilary Armstrong, the United States, France, Portugal, Denmark, Hong Kong, The Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden, the Australian state of New South Wales and the Canadian province of Ontario all had more expensive conveyancing charges than England and Wales.

Ms Armstrong released the details yesterday at the start of a bigger survey which will follow the progress of 1,200 property sales south of the border compared with a sample in Scotland. In Scotland, there is no problem with gazumping - where a vendor accepts a higher price having already agreed a lower price with an earlier buyer - because buyers and sellers exchange contracts at an early stage.

"This study shows that the overall costs of buying and selling a house in England and Wales are the lowest of all the countries reviewed, but the total time taken to exchange contracts and complete is amongst the longest," Ms Armstrong said.

She said that the task force's next job would be to examine causes of delay and root them out. The larger survey would, she said "identify problem areas and look at ways of improving the efficiency of the process in the interests of all responsible, home buyers and sellers."

Also on the task force and Geoff Hoon, parliamentary secretary at the Lord Chancellor's Department, and consumer affairs minister Nigel Griffiths.

The Law Society, which is involved in the research, said one of the reforms which might come out of the findings is the introduction of a "compulsory seller's information pack". This would contain details of surveys, searches and so on, which would speed up the exchange procedure.

Kenneth Byass, chairman of the society's property and commercial services committee, said the research reflected positively on solicitors. "The costs of buying a pounds 60,000 house are about 2.5 per cent in England and Wales, far cheaper than many other jurisdictions," he said. "[They] rise to 6 per cent in France and a staggering 10 per cent in Portugal."