Conveyancing leader defends ‘factory’ law firms

Rudolf: Factories is a pejorative term

Conveyancing ‘factories’ are property specialists and invest in technology to give consumers the service they want, the director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association has said.

Beth Rudolf also told MPs on the levelling up, housing and communities committee that estate agents needed to be regulated and it was wrong to expect the public to pay for this through the Trading Standards regime.

She was giving evidence for its inquiry into buying and selling homes on a second panel after the one we reported yesterday.

Responding to a question about conveyancing “factories”, Ms Rudolf said that only 0.1% of people who used conveyancers complained to the Legal Ombudsman and that proportion “does not change” when the complaints are about volume conveyancers.

The Conveyancing Association predominantly represents larger conveyancing firms – its 80 members account for around a quarter of all property transactions and 70% of re-mortgages in England and Wales.

“The benefit of these large conveyancing companies is that they are specialist conveyancers who will invest in the technology and enable the consumer to have the service they desire,” Ms Rudolf said.

She described “factories” as a “pejorative term” for volume conveyancers using “technology and teams to deal with cases effectively”.

Calling for the regulation of estate and letting agents, she said that, at the moment, “we are expecting the public purse to regulate estate agents through National Trading Standards”.

Trading standards teams were funded by local authorities, which “had no money”.

Ms Rudolf went on: “If we had a regulator, as in the legal or financial industry, it would be paid for by the people who are regulated.”

Tim Douglas, head of policy and campaigns at Propertymark, the professional body for property agents, said it was “absolute madness” that nobody was “licensing the competency of individuals carrying out this work”, but “political will from the UK government” was needed.

He said that, along with the regulation of property agents, an “overarching strategy” was needed for housing and the property sector. “Too much is done in isolation.”

Mairead Carroll, senior property specialist at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), agreed that regulation of estate agents was needed and RICS “firmly believes” it should happen.

She said Trading Standards was “technically not a regulator but an enforcement agency” and only a regulator could look at “conduct and standards across the board” and change the way estate agents were dealt with, including those who “do not treat people as they should”.

On upfront property information, Ms Rudolf said there was a feeling that “if you’re providing upfront information, you’re increasing your liability.”

She said this was “rubbish” and liability “stays the same” as conveyancers remained under a duty to advise clients in their best interests. Insurers had told her that in fact the provision of upfront information “reduces risk”.

Ms Rudolf called for a protocol across the whole home-buying system, which would tell the industry “who is going to know what when and how will it be shared. Buyers need to have property information upfront so they can digest it, and work out what it means to them.”

She added: “In Scotland the seller pays for the survey. It doesn’t stop properties going onto the market.”

Ms Carroll agreed that surveys should be carried out at an early stage, so buyers can “fully understand the condition of a property”.

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