Harrogate homebuyers face 'high levels of anxiety' and long delays as council struggles with searches backlog
Homebuyers in Harrogate are facing some of the lengthiest queues in the country to finalise their purchases - as the borough council struggles with a long backlog of property checks.
The relaxation of lockdown restrictions in summer saw the borough's pricey property market spring back into life, however, there are now warnings the mini-housing boom is being brought to a halt because of delays with local authority searches.
Harrogate Borough Council is responsible for carrying out searches on issues including planning and traffic, and aims to complete these checks within seven working days.
But it has now revealed there are more than a month-long delays in the process - something homebuyers and sellers say is "costing people money and high levels of anxiety" as they rush to beat the deadline on a temporary stamp duty holiday.
Research from law firm Simpson Millar shows Harrogate Borough Council ranks as the ninth worst local authority in the UK when it comes to these delays - with search requests taking an average of 27 working days to process.
The council said it is facing "unprecedented levels of demand" and that it received over 700 search requests in October alone - almost twice as many as the same month last year.
A council spokesman said: “The main reason for the extended timeframe is due to the high volume of search requests that have been received over the last six months. Something that most local authorities across the country are facing.
“Over recent weeks we have significantly increased the number of staff working on land searches to proactively address this issue, but it will inevitably take time for their training to be completed and a positive impact to be felt."
Harrogate resident William McCarthy is in the process of selling his house. He described the delays as a "disgrace" and accused the council of not acting quick enough to get on top of the problem.
He said: "The council is there to serve the community but isn't fulfilling this role in any degree whatsoever as it knows there is a latent problem which it has never bothered to address, in any effective or meaningful sense.
"It is costing people money and high levels of anxiety especially with Covid and the limit on stamp duty holiday due to expire in less than four months."
The problems facing buyers have prompted industry calls for an extension to the stamp duty holiday which has meant movers can save as much as £15,000 in tax payments if they buy their home before March 31.
Estate agents, surveyors, solicitors and homebuyers across the country are calling on the government to extend this for a further six months to avoid any disappointments caused by the delays with local authority searches.
Sean Jones, of Simpson Millar, said that buyers can help to prevent further delays by getting mortgages agreed in principle before offering, having a deposit ready to transfer, and ordering surveys as soon as possible.
A spokesman for Harrogate Borough Council added: " With search requests continuing to rise we would encourage people to be mindful of the current timescales and advise them to carry out searches as early as possible in their housing buying process.
"We appreciate how stressful buying a house can be and we are doing everything we can to reduce the processing times."
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter