In the first of three interview pieces, we asked Phil Priest of 4Corners Property to share his thoughts on the 4,000 conveyancers and solicitors who transfer the title of the property asset or do the legal work if an owner is looking to re-mortgage.
Phil Priest, who I have known for some years, is the co-founder of 4Corners Property and one of the most respected, helpful and genuinely switched-on individuals looking to make “doing property” a much faster ride for all.
Andrew Stanton: Before we get into what your views are on conveyancing solicitors and conveyancers, tell us about the day job Phil
Phil Priest: 4Corners Property is a quotation platform that allows estate agents and mortgage advisors to generate quotes from solicitors, a service where we can give a buyer and a seller oversight as to the best conveyancing package for them. With a panel of local solicitors ready for you to instruct conveyancing matters to instantly
So where do solicitors fit into your business?
By working as one of our trusted partners, solicitors gain access to hundreds of homeowners who are looking to appoint a conveyancing solicitor. In addition there are many business opportunities for trusted partners to work with our consortium of estate agents and mortgage brokers in their local area.
Phil, I know that some are inventing Legaltech solutions to try to digitize the sector, though I know you are coming at it from a different angle, what is it?
Yes, I see the whole thing as a joint endeavour, getting from sold subject to contract to exchange is slow, stressful and involves a lot of stakeholders. Agents often blame conveyancers for this, the public gets frustrated, and no one earns until completion comes.
Well, instead of accepting this chaos we decided to jump in and knit together the post-sold subject-to-contract journey in a different way, harmonising and quickening processes.
A lot is being spoken about upfront information, the use of digital property logbooks etc, all this sounds fine, but right now in 2023, we have to work with the current system, and if it is tweaked we can get sales through a month earlier, which means a happy buyer and seller, the agent and mortgage advisor get paid quicker and the solicitor can do more cases.
We are huge advocates of solicitors and 4Corners Property puts together panels of conveyancers and solicitors that the agents want their clients to use, we understand that agencies are embedded in local communities and so are the conveyancers. On our platform, there will be national companies too, but we rate them for quality and speed so full transparency here.
A big instant win is that we order the three main searches on day one of the sale being instructed, that alone can save over a month of dead time. Also as most solicitors do not raise enquiries until they have the search in, well you get the picture.
A positive outcome for the agent, vendor and solicitor is that you have a committed buyer who has paid extra cash and wants to move quickly, a win for all.
So Phil, you connect solicitors with vendors and buyers and people looking to re-mortgage, do you monetise this, and should you?
For many years there has been a big debate in the agency and legal circles about conveyancing solicitors paying arrangement fees or commissions to those who supply them with new clients. Many solicitors stoutly refuse to do so, arguing that it is wrong.
But in 2023, when the public does all of its searching for goods on services online rather than walking down the high street, so solicitors need outside help to secure new business.
But does the public lose out?
How I see it is this, if solicitors do not pay referral fees to agents and others, then that same solicitor is paying cash out to advertise their business, so each year they have a budget for the cost of acquisition of a client, would it not seem logical to reward the person who introduced the client instead of burning cash on google ads?
Secondly, with the 4Corners Property platform service, a vendor or buyer looking for the best in their area has the freedom of choice. Our USP is that within an hour of agreeing on a sale, they can view all the detailed quotes, and the labour and disbursement costs and can instruct and get things done.
We know that agreeing on a sale is just the start of things, a fast efficient route to getting solicitors instructed and searches paid for and ordered will over the year save cancellations and speed sales, it is not rocket science.
During Covid and due to the SDLT holiday there was a huge uptick in sales putting conveyancers under pressure, what do you think?
We have over the years worked closely with a large number of solicitors and when Covid came and lockdown, it did act as a wake-up call to many businesses about how ill-prepared they were in a business full of paper.
Conveyancing itself is probably in need of change, it has become more and more complex due in part to the needs of the lenders, I am hoping that software, AI and machine learning can take away a number of the tedious and repetitive processes.
Also, another big pressure for solicitors is that they are being chased by stakeholders in the sale for updates, typically agents, who want to update their buyer and seller and gauge the health of the sale.
What people need to understand is that solicitors are problem solvers, but they are not very good at customer service or communicating. That is why we have transparency at the core of everything we do, we have built a hub of technology which means weekly updates.
So you are the middleware that sits between solicitors and makes it a customer-friendly experience?
We make average solicitors look good and good solicitors shine as being excellent.
More importantly, we help average solicitors generate more profit. Let’s look at the figures. There is a lot of fuzzy logic about improving efficiency and increasing profits, so we took the time and did some number crunching.
We know that an average conveyancer fee earner manages seventy live case files at any one time. This can lead to six calls per week per case file requesting updates, totalling 420 calls/emails per week asking for information. Instead, we do this all in one update each week. Also managing seventy live case files is a lot, some manage a lot more.
If an average transaction takes 120 days, the current average without the 4Moving Pack, they can manage 212 cases per year per fee earner.
365 days divided by 120 days per transaction with 70 live case files equals 212 cases per year, per fee earner.
Using the 4Corners system and the 4Moving pack being ordered upfront they can manage 323 cases per year without breaching the 70 live case files they manage.
365 divided by 79 days per transaction with 70 live case files equals 323 cases per year, per fee earner.
That’s an increase of 111 cases per year per solicitor, meaning 111 people move into their homes a lot sooner. And if the average fee per conveyancing solicitor charged is £750 x 111 extra files, that amounts to £83,250 in additional revenue per year.
So we are speeding up the conveyancing process and taking away the burden of the conveyancer reporting to all the stakeholders, and generating more profit for clients.
Stay tuned for the second part of our interview with Phil Priest.
Andrew Stanton is the founder of Proptech-PR, a consultancy for Founders of Proptechs looking to grow and exit, using his influence from decades of industry experience. Separately he is a consultant to some of the biggest names in global real estate, advising on sales and acquisitions, market positioning, and operations. He is also the founder of Proptech-X Proptech & Property News, where his insights, connections and detailed analysis and commentary on proptech and real estate are second to none.