Streamlining title investigation

The conveyancing profession has always had to walk a difficult line in carrying out its day to day activities in property transactions.

Not only are conveyancers required to be expert in all aspects of property related law, but they have a duty of care to (it seems) everyone in the transaction. It can easily be the case that, despite a firm’s intentions to act in their client’s best interests, under Outcomes focussed regulation, they can still be held liable for issues that arise. This responsibility coupled with an ever increasing regulation and compliance requirements, downward pressure on fees and on-going problems with access to Lender panels, makes the conveyancing landscape more than a little challenging!

So how DO conveyancers compete and protect themselves and their clients in this environment, whilst continuing to add value to the conveyancing process? There have been many attempts to evolve/improve the conveyancing process over the last decade with some success, but the reality remains that it still takes approximately 2-3 months to complete a process that could be achieved in more like 3-4 weeks. One area constantly under the spotlight is ensuring that the Lender’s interest has been correctly recorded and protected during the transaction. This largely relates to the current drive in the Lender community to reduce their exposure to fraud. Charges being incorrectly recorded against the title or addresses where there is not an exact match, can prove challenging for conveyancers when reviewing files at the Lender’s request. With current market focus firmly on running a profitable practice through maximising efficiencies, conveyancers need to employ a variety of measures in order to continue to thrive.

Conveyancing protocols such as CQS and SLC Quality Assured have been introduced to help conveyancers standardise operations and provide a recognised “Kite mark”. Part of the approach for these schemes is to ensure greater information and transparency from the seller right from the start, through an obligation for disclosure. In recognition of the shift towards standardisation and in an attempt to increase efficiencies, mitigate risk and deal with compliance requirements (both generally and with any “Kite Mark” that may apply), the market has evolved by creating a number of platforms and products that work in harmony with these protocols.

Title investigation has always been a critical part of the conveyancing process but attempts to improve it have mostly fallen by the wayside on the basis that they can be seen as disintermediating the conveyancer from the process. However, this does not have to be the case and conveyancers can work with their existing systems and incorporate time saving efficiencies along with providing an audit trail of activity, through making use of a new generation of specialised reports such as TitleChecker® as part of their Report on Title. TitleChecker® is a new product that interrogates official Land Registry data to establish where title issues may lie and reviews the CML Lenders Handbook Parts 1 & 2 to ascertain; a) whether the transaction can proceed and b) what areas should be looked at in more detail.

None of this takes away from the Conveyancer’s professional skill and judgement both of which are still to be applied to the issues that are raised, but it does make the application of those valuable qualities more focused and more efficient.

Of course identifying the issues is only the start and increasing reliance has been placed on title insurance as a “transactional warranty” to ensure that all party’s interests are protected and ultimately that the transaction is successful.

As the conveyancing industry becomes increasingly competitive and the market evolves, conveyancers will need to continue to adapt. Those who embrace technology and work towards ever increasing efficiencies, thereby preserving the value of their skills that actually add value to the clients, will continue to thrive, but a lack of desire for change may mean a bleak outlook for those who choose not to.

Sam Cherry, Director of Legal Futures Associate CLS Ltd

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