Conveyancing work has fallen to its lowest level since the middle of 2013, and the number of firms actively doing the work has hit a new low, a survey has found.
While the top five firms have been “insulated” from the lull in the market, the smallest operators outside the top 1,000 conveyancing practice have suffered the most.
Conveyancing volumes sank by 14% to 210,964 in the second quarter of this year, according to the latest Search Acumen conveyancing market tracker, which uses Land Registry data.
Despite the shrinking number of firms, the average monthly caseload per firm dropped by 13%, from 59 in the first quarter to 51 in the second – the lowest quarterly figure since the middle of 2014.
The fall in the average number of active conveyancing firms was much smaller, going down by only 1% from the first quarter of the year, to 4,143 – the lowest figure since the index began in 2011.
Firms averaging between 100-200 transactions per month saw the biggest fall, dropping a third from 88 to 59.
When it came to falling transactions this year, the biggest quarterly reductions were felt by conveyancing firms outside the top 20, but in the top 100. They saw transactions go down by 18%, as opposed to 11% for the top five firms.
Search Acumen said that while the top five had experienced the biggest fall in transactions over the last year, by 29%, this could be explained by the rush to complete purchases at the end of the first quarter of last year, caused by the new stamp duty regime.
Over a two-year period, Search Acumen said there had been “minimal change” for the top five, with a small increase in transactions to 2,507 cases per firm per quarter, compared to a 14% decline for firms outside the top 1,000, from 20 to 18 cases per firm per quarter.
Andrew Lloyd, managing director of Search Acumen, said: “The dip in conveyancing activity should come as no surprise to those closely watching the UK property market, but it poses a significant challenge for conveyancing firms that want to survive and grow.
“The turbulence in the UK’s political system is far from settling as we follow our Brexit path, and it is essential that the property market is safeguarded from continued uncertainty with clear and effective policy decisions.
“Last time the market was this quiet for conveyancers, we saw major interventions through Help to Buy to support first-time buyers.
“Meanwhile, with fewer customers to play for, competitive pressures are heightening and conveyancing firms face more of a challenge to attract new business.
“No-one wants to get left behind in the second half of the year and if growth returns after the summer, the biggest winners will be those firms that are ready to leap out of the starting blocks.”