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Home purchases are still delayed despite current market need for speed

Thousands of homebuyers are waiting up to 120% longer than a year ago - as much as 24 days more - for essential information relating to the purchase of their property, research reveals today.

Continued inefficiency and anti-competitive behaviour at some local councils means that the length of time you wait for vital property search documents relates directly to your postcode, according to leading property data company OneSearch Direct, which compiled the local authority research.

This could be a serious and costly issue if you’re buying a home in the West London Borough of Hillingdon. The worst offending local authority, Hillingdon takes an average of 44 days to return search data – a huge increase on last year’s average of 20 days for homebuyers to receive important information from this council.

OneSearch Direct’s findings have been mirrored by other leading industry experts. Ted Beardsall’s Local Property Searches and Leasehold Information report, published this month, detailed how some councils were being unnecessarily restrictive, and in some instances even deliberately obstructive, towards private search companies.

Just one example of this would be Copeland Borough Council which, despite allowing an unrestricted number of searches, will only allow them to be completed between 10am and 12pm on Fridays.

Given that the most pressing concern for nearly half of all homebuyers is the length of the home buying process[1], this is clearly cause for concern – especially since there is real need for stimulation in the current property market.

However, some local authorities are doing their bit to keep deal flow going and are leading the way in the postcode lottery. Crawley Borough Council tops the efficiency league with an average of just 2.25 days to return search data.

Ronnie Park, Managing Director at OneSearch Direct, comments: “It’s ludicrous that there continues to be vast differences in the efficiency and competency of local authorities across the country. With the market slowing down, it’s more crucial than ever that we ensure best practice regardless of postcode – or there could be serious timing, cost and liability implications for consumers.”

Average time for a completed search (as at 20 June 2008)

Five fastest councils (days taken)

Crawley Borough Council 2.25(5th)
Christchurch Borough Council 2.33(NEW)
South Staffordshire District Council 2.33(NEW)
Oldham M. Borough Council 2.38(NEW)
Peterborough City Council 2.42(NEW)

Five slowest councils (days taken)
London Borough of Hillingdon 44.28(Bottom)
Halton Borough Council 31.50(NEW)
Welwyn Hatfield Council 29.69(NEW)
West Lindsey District Council 27.00(NEW)
Hastings Borough Council 20.62(NEW)

The majority of the worst offenders remain in the South East of England, where the housing market is most competitive and speed is of the essence, despite warnings from OneSearch last year of the region’s shortfalls in this area. Over half of local authorities taking 10 days or more to return key information are located in London and the South East, including three of the five slowest on the league table of 350 councils.

The postcode lottery applies not only to turnaround times, but to price too. Most local authorities charge a standard, reasonable £6 fee for the search. However, some such as Eastleigh Borough Council in Hampshire charge up to £48 for the same information.

Ted Beardsall’s report confirmed that that there was “no doubt that the highest priced local authority searches are subsidising other council services”, which contravenes the “no cross-subsidisation of service” rule that the public sector should abide by. In addition, the Carsberg Review, published last week, warned that there is “a strong need for legislation to introduce specific controls” over councils’ practices in relation to searches.

Ronnie Park adds: “Buyers should also be concerned about the quality of information in their search. We’re aware of instances where buyers have inherited expensive renovation grants, which, had they been spotted, would have empowered the prospective buyer to negotiate on price.

“We go to considerable lengths to ensure the quality of information we collect and store in our database and also have teams on the ground consistently sourcing information for prospective buyers. But more effective co-operation between public data holders and private sector search suppliers is essential to empower consumers to make quicker, smoother purchases. It’s time for reform.”


For a full listing of councils or for further information contact:

Jasmine Richards
Mandate Communications 020 3128 8147

Andrew Bentham
Mandate Communications 020 3128 8103

Notes to Editor:

OneSearch Direct

Is the UK’s leading private search company, currently employing 250 people.

Has a team of 24 devoted to entering data gathered from 397 councils across England and Wales each day to ensure up-to-the minute, accurate information
Offers unrivalled protection, with a £10 million professional indemnity insurance policy and a unique information accuracy warranty.

Is capable of delivering approximately 600,000 searches in the first 12 months after the introduction of HIPs - representing around 30% of the current total market

Is a founding member of the Council of Property Search Organisations (CoPSO), an OFT compliant organisation, run by an external board of industry experts who monitor compliance of the Search code for private search providers, and apply the rules and redress.

Has been established in Scotland for 15 years and has a 30% share of the local search market north of the border.

Operates across England and Scotland.


[1] The research was conducted online by YouGov Plc in November 2007 on behalf of OneSearch Direct. YouGov interviewed a sample of 2,015 GB 18+ adults.

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