Downward trend in conveyancing firms stopped in its tracks as work volumes rise

Riddick: conveyancers are becoming more productive

The total number of law firms registering conveyancing transactions rose 4% in 2016 to 5,572, halting five years going the other way, and they are busier than before the financial crash, new figures have shown.

Search Acumen’s conveyancing market tracker – which uses Land Registry data – showed how the overall trend has been steeply downwards, with the number of active conveyancing firms in the market dropping by 28% in the last decade from around the 8,000 mark, despite 2016 activity hitting its highest point since 2007.

This represents an average drop-out rate of 213 firms each year since 2006 through both exits and mergers.

The tracker found that the market completed the highest number of conveyancing volumes in 2016 since the pre-financial crisis peak in 2007.

With fewer firms overall, this means practices are completing more – the average conveyancing firm completed 22% more transactions in 2016 than a decade ago, rising from 158 in 2006 to 193.

This was also the highest number of completed transactions on average per year per conveyancing firm since Search Acumen began tracking the data in 2005.

The growth over the past year was most marked among the conveyancing firms ranked 11th to 20th when judged by completions, which saw volumes rise 11% to 3,782 per firm

In all, 71% of transactions last year were handled by the top 1,000 firms, with the top 10 securing a 6% market share – up from 2% in 2006.

Mark Riddick, chairman of Search Acumen said 2016 was a testing year for the conveyancer, with the market picking up pace ahead of April’s stamp duty land tax reform, but then the Brexit vote introducing uncertainty.

“The industry has been tried and tested and our tracker looking at the year in retrospect shows that we have remained resilient.

“The first year-on-year rise in total conveyancing firms since 2011 is an interesting development during a time of economic uncertainty, and… shows that the sector very much adopted a ‘business as usual’ attitude, disallowing the multitude of obstacles from the ongoing Brexit saga.

“The longer-term picture has revealed a shrinking volume of active firms, but this may not be as worrying as it sounds. The number of firms operating in the market might have decreased by more than a quarter over the past decade, but conveyancing volumes are hitting new highs since the financial crisis of 2008.

“Conveyancers are therefore becoming more productive and are adapting to the challenges in the market to meet the increasing demand for property.”

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