To blame conveyancing, or to understand conveyancing?
With homemovers continuing to face record delays in the time it takes to get a purchase/sale completed, many within the property industry are naturally looking to point the finger.
Increasingly, the conveyancing process and conveyancers are on the receiving end of this finger-pointing, largely due to its complexity, intricacy, and vulnerability to a host of factors than can cause delays.
It is essential that sellers and buyers listen to their Estate Agents for recommended Solicitor / Conveyancing firms. We refer our Clients to Montrose Conveyancing allowing us speed up and keep our eye on the legal process.
That said, many of said factors come from outside of the conveyancing process and are not within the hands of conveyancers. Think additional enquiries, incomplete contract packs, clients needing reassurance, incorrect mortgage offers… the list goes on. Conveyancers and the conveyancing process are, however, often blamed for the resulting delays.
In light of this our good friend at Today’s Conveyancer, and Property Industry Eye, last week polled their respective readerships with a version of the following question: “Do you think it would be beneficial for all the parties to a transaction – agents, lenders, buyers, sellers etc – to have a better understanding of the conveyancing process?” Of nearly 500 respondents across the property industry, a striking 95% responded “Yes”. Despite the unequivocal findings, it seems that there is a lack of intent to better understand the process, and to understand that conveyancing delays aren’t entirely the fault of conveyancers.
One must only look to LSL’s H1 results to see the narrative: “The Estate Agency Division… was impacted by lower activity levels in the new purchase market and continued delays in conversion of our residential sales pipelines caused by conveyancing issues in the market. We have yet to see evidence of an improvement in these issues which we had expected to ameliorate during H1.”
Last Friday, Connells Group also blamed their half year results, showing a 13% drop in revenue, on “slow pipeline conversion”. There is no overnight fix, though perhaps a better understanding of the conveyancing process for other parties to the transaction would be a starting point to reduce the burden on conveyancers and put an end to the blame-game. Iain McKenzie, CEO of The Guild of Property Professionals, said that while conveyancing is not perfect, agents are not entirely blameless and “should manage their clients’ expectations and disappointment by clearing the runway and ensuring all the information they provide to the conveyancer is correct”.
He gave the example that 60% of memoranda of sale are inaccurate, often not having the right initials or names – there are no chain details on them or upfront information. He added: “It is important that agents have as much knowledge about the conveyancing process as possible, so that they can take control of their conveyancing chain themselves.” Spicerhaart have introduced a number of measures aimed at increasing the amount of upfront information shared between parties.
“We need agencies and solicitors to work together in a relay so that the baton, i.e. the memorandum of sale, along with as much information as possible, is handed over the moment the sale is agreed, allowing the solicitor to speed off down the track and over the finish line,” said Jon Lay, Spicerhaart’s Divisional Managing Director for Legal Services. He went on to highlight how agents can support conveyancers: “Any good agent interested in actually selling a property should be working with the vendor to collate as much information as possible upfront, having those discussions about FENSA certificates, when the boiler was last serviced and identifying any alterations that will have required planning or building regulations. “They should also be gathering information about leaseholds, such as details of managing agents, ground rent receipts and fire risk assessments.” “With an estimated 2,000 fewer conveyancers nationwide than three years ago, there is immense pressure on the industry while organisations are trying to recruit. It’s therefore vital that both existing and new conveyancers become better communicators when it comes to sharing information.
“There needs to be regular and effective communication, at agreed times, between the agents and conveyancers – and people mustn’t keep bugging each other but allow each other to get on with the job.”
Rob Hailstone of The Bold Legal Group said that the results of the poll “speak for themselves”, noting that 2023’s inaugural National Conveyancing Week may be an opportunity to put things right: “With the first ever National Conveyancing Week taking place next March (week commencing 20th), maybe conveyancers could open up their offices for a half day, or even a day, so that agents could shadow a busy conveyancer. Then they could spend some time explaining and discussing each other’s roles and the difficulties they both have to deal with?” Support for increased information sharing and understanding is clearly widespread, and this sentiment is reflected in the impassioned comment section of EYE’s poll post. One agent said that their office previously “had good relationships with local solicitors [who were] always happy to allow my new staff to sit in with their conveyancing team for a couple of days to give them an insight into the conveyancing process”. They added: “This worked well and the solicitors were happy to have staff back later in their training too. This allowed my staff to understand the process and explain it to our clients: win-win for all involved.” Hailstone seconded this relationship’s efficacy through the 1970s and 1980s, though it was refuted by some commentators who were less optimistic. One said:“Try and help, yes, but it is all down to the person who makes the decision of when, how and when… the competence of the conveyancer. “So now I have the knowledge of what the conveyancer should be doing, and they aren’t. I haven’t a clue of their workload or the confidentially of information by interested third parties (lenders/chain solicitors etc). “What happens now if it isn’t moving as fast as I think it should be? Ever tried to push a conveyancer that you have no control over?” Another responded that “it would be helpful for everyone if agents and homemovers had a better understanding of the process (and technical knowledge in the case of agents), but it doesn’t speed up the conveyancers.” To which Hailstone said: “If the conveyancers were left to get on with their work it might.” What is clear is that there is a widespread hunger for increased understanding of conveyancing across the board.
This is not wholesale change; it will not fix every aspect of the system overnight. It could, however, impact transaction speeds, minimise toxicity within the industry, and reduce the burden on conveyancers. At the very minimum, it’s something to consider. It would be interesting to have EYE readers’ views on how the evident willingness to understand the role of the conveyancer might translate into practical benefit.
With grateful thanks to Jamie Lennox of Today’s Conveyancer, who substantially wrote this piece - Quoted from property industry eye.