Probate property sales subject to huge delays

Selling properties in probate has become an extremely difficult process that’s taking between three and four months longer than usual, said Caroline Watson, director of Probate Property People.

Due to the pandemic there’s been a spike of deaths, especially amongst older people, while there’s a severe backlog of properties set to be sold as part of the probate process.

There’s currently a shortage of surveyors, estate agents are working with skeleton staff, while social distancing measures mean families don’t want to come into contact with these professionals.

Watson (pictured) said: “Lot’s people are passing away – it’s been a bit of a nightmare.

“Families have to find hotels to stay in and try to avoid being in contact with people.

“Estate agents need to come in and out of the properties and they are reluctant.”

She added: “Currently there’s a backlog of an extra three or four months compared to normal times.

“You can put properties on the market but you can’t legally complete a sale until the grant of probate is completed.

“It’s added a lot of stress to what’s already stressful.”

Watson’s company is a property management firm based in London which works with executors and families, as well as estate agents, to arrange the sale of property in probate.

For estates above the inheritance tax threshold of £325,000 the HMRC can demand a valuation from a RICS chartered surveyor. However due to the stamp duty holiday many people are trying to compete deals before the end of March, meaning demand for surveyors is high – resulting in long waits to get a survey done.

Travel restrictions and advice not to travel between regions means physically getting to the probate property can be difficult, especially if it’s at the other end of the country.

Hotel closures have also made things very challenging.

Similarly, the closure of non-essential shops like charity shops has made it harder to dispose of unwanted items from the property.

Estate agencies have been closed at times throughout the pandemic, while many are working with reduced staff, making it more difficult to secure valuations from them.

Meanwhile it’s tough to get tradespeople in to decorate, as they are currently in high demand.

All this adds up to the process being far harder than usual.