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Phil Priest, a well-known industry figure and Director of 4Corners Property, offers his thoughts on what is really going on with conveyancing.
“Conveyancing isn’t broken as we complete on 1.1m properties every year, it’s just not broken enough!” quoted Peter Ambrose from The Partnership when we discussed the current state of the industry.
We have all heard the horror stories when people move home, the stress, the emotional rollercoaster of the clients and the financial worry that they carry with them during the time it takes from making/accepting an offer to finally moving home.
Since 1980 the legal fees solicitors charged have been reduced by nearly 75%, this is climbing again steadily but nowhere near the fee that estate agents charge. This has led to the need for solicitors to increase their work volume, on average managing 70 live case files but in some organisations a lot more leading to increased stress on the fee earners and a decline in the service levels they are able to provide.
But what are the service levels expected by the agents and clients from Solicitors?
First and foremost the fundamental role of the solicitor is to ensure that the transaction isn’t carried out fraudulently, it completes legally and ensures the property and other items included in the transaction are agreed.
What clients, estate agents and mortgage brokers don’t all understand is that there are up to 19 different parties involved in a conveyancing transaction. The solicitor must request, wait for, be advised on and update these 3rd parties during the transaction and each has their own turnaround times meaning the fee earner can be waiting for weeks before moving to the next stage.
But solicitors are trained to be risk averse and look for issues within the transaction that could cause an issue, not just for now but for many years down the line. Hence why their Professional Indemnity policies can start at £100k per annum.
Why is it so stressful and the ‘service’ you get is so poor?
Since the mid-1990s the role of a conveyancing solicitor has been devalued, de-professionalised and commoditised to a ‘service’ where you can buy online along with your towels from John Lewis. But the risk is so much higher and going cheap can cost you. This has led to even higher case volumes managed by fee earners leaving them less time to ‘service’ their clients’ needs whilst trying to complete their work, the result is things taking longer and more stress for all parties involved.
What is ‘service’?
We all have varying expectations when it comes to what we believe ‘service’ should be from a conveyancing solicitor from keeping us up to date and speaking to us clearly to help us understand the process of moving home to getting the job done quickly. Some clients want an update every day which is unmanageable as there are often weeks when nothing happens at all.
The estate agents pressure the fee earners to keep it moving to satisfy their KPIs of chasing the solicitors but often cause friction when again there is nothing to update or the fee earner busy reading a 19-page environmental search and doesn’t respond when requested.
Everyone is a first-time buyer!
The theory of keeping people informed through the transaction is one that varies per client and transaction. Some clients are needier, and some transactions are more complex and take longer. On average a person moves home every seven years which is a bit different to the last time you booked an Uber or bought from Amazon, so remembering what steps are involved will have been forgotten, hence why we are all first-time buyers, again and again.
No update is an update!
The underlying issue with solicitors in conveyancing is that we all feel left out of the transaction and in the dark as to where we are in the process. Weeks go by without a peep from our solicitor which creates stress and uncertainty leading to more calls and emails chasing an update. On average a solicitor can receive up to 420 calls & emails a week asking for an update, how can the solicitors be expected to update everyone??
Where is my update?
The case management and CRMs designed for solicitors and portals provided to the clients to ‘track their case’ only have a handful of stages, on average 5 stages of conveyancing. This means an average 23-week transaction (the current time it takes to move home) only has 5 touch points, how is anyone supposed to feel comfortable with so few updates? DPD have the ability to tell you on several occasions where your new clothes from ASOS are in the UK but no such luck with selling your home.
Bear in mind that no conveyancing transaction is linear. Different stages can be completed at different times. The mortgage offer can be received before the draft contracts are received and the Memo of Sale can be received before the client has returned their onboarding documentation. So how can five stages be completed when part of stage three is completed before stage one, and vice versa?
At 4Corners Property, and like so many good solicitors, we provide a weekly update to all mortgage Advisors and Estate Agents every Friday for them to provide to the clients. These detailed reports can have up to 31 stages for a standard transaction creating transparency as to what has happened in that week, what we are waiting for, who has been chased and when.
When no update is a good update!
Just seeing the steps completed, what is being worked on and what is next is as good of an update as to seeing stages completed.
With Searches taking up to 8 weeks in some councils, surveyors taking up to 3 weeks etc knowing these dates and that the process is in hand is comforting to the client but also for the solicitor to show that they can’t progress the file further until those are returned.
With our partnership with the below excellent conveyancing firms we receive these updates from them directly, leading to less chasing calls from clients, mortgage advisors and estate agents allowing our solicitors to progress the files quicker leading to an average of between 79 – 120 days.
Phil Priest is the director of 4Corners Property, a firm working with solicitors and estate agents to help them increase revenue and improve efficiency through the use of technology and relationships, specialising in developing partnerships between solicitors, estate agents and mortgage brokers.