Most buyers and sellers in England and Wales find the process stressful

The majority of people in England and Wales who buy or sell a property find is stressful with delays causing the most worry but there is also a level of dissatisfaction with estate agents, new research shows.

Some 69% of sellers and 62% of buyers reported stress and worry as a result of a delay while 46% of sellers had concerns about a buyer changing their mind after making an offer, according to a new survey commissioned by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

It also found that 24% of sellers would use a different estate agent if they were to go through the process again and 32% of sellers and 28% of buyers were dissatisfied with the other party’s solicitor.

The survey covered the entire process from the initial marketing or property search, to negotiating an offer and all aspects of the conveyancing prior to completing the sale. It also looked at failed sales.

Although some sellers are turning to online agents with lower fixed fees or selling entirely privately, the majority are still using traditional estate agents with a high street presence to market their homes.

The survey revealed that people have concerns over using alternative methods for home buying and selling with the vast majority, some 83%, using a traditional estate agent, 10% selling privately and only 5% using an online agent and 1% an auction.

Older sellers and those involved in the complexities of an onward chain were more likely to use a traditional agent and the 63% choosing a traditional agent tended to say that they simply prefer to do it that way. Some 20% were concerned that it would be hard to communicate without an agent to assist and the same percentage that something would go wrong with the process otherwise.

Buyer behaviour was generally determined by how the seller marketed the property they wanted to buy, again, 83% of buyers purchasing their home through a traditional estate agent.

The survey also found that 75% of sellers asked more than one estate agent to value their home but 94% opted for a sole agency contract when they put the property on the market. However, 12% of those opting for sole agency would have rather appointed multiple agents but were put off by the higher fees.

Experienced sellers were more likely to negotiate the fees or length of contract and more likely to change agents to achieve a sale, most commonly because they believed they were not getting enough viewings. Similarly, those in a chain and often under pressure to complete a deal were more likely to change agents.

It also found that 30% of buyers only viewed the property they went on to buy once before making an offer while first time buyers and those buying in London were the most likely to feel they didn’t view the property as much as they would have liked.

Among those who would have liked to view the property again, 29% simply felt there wasn’t time before needing to make an offer and 24% reported that the estate agent had told them there was a lot of interest in the property.

Despite some concerns about marketing or finding a property, the conveyancing period from offer acceptance to completion carried most of the stress, frustration and uncertainty for both buyers and sellers, with low levels of trust between all parties. Many experienced delays to the process and some incurred costs as a result, the survey report says.

Mistrust crept in once an offer had been made. Some 35% of buyers were concerned that a survey would reveal something unexpected about the property while 46% of sellers worried that the buyer would change their mind and withdraw their offer.

For many, 38% of buyers and 41% of sellers, the time taken from offer to exchange of contracts took longer than they expected. First time buyers, who might have had unrealistic expectations, were only slightly more likely to report delays than experienced buyers, while four in 10 of those who experienced delays incurred additional costs as a result, such as paying for rented accommodation or putting their possessions into storage with an average cost of £500 to £750.

Overall, the most common frustration among buyers and sellers was with the length of time that the conveyancing process takes and satisfaction with the services received during the process reflected this.

Satisfaction with estate agents was high at 81% among buyers and 84% among sellers, whilst consumers were most likely to express dissatisfaction with the other party’s solicitor, amounting to 32% of sellers and 28% of buyers.

‘Buying a home can be one of the most stressful experiences in life, with sales often taking too long or falling through with some consumers losing substantial sums of money,’ said Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services.

‘The current home buying process is outdated and flawed. The Government must put consumers first, ensuring that estate agents deliver a better service for both home buyers and sellers and that the conveyancing process is simplified,’ he added.