Exclusive: PE-backed conveyancer puts acquisitions on hold

Hale: Focus on core brands

One of the country’s largest conveyancing firms, O’Neill Patient (ONP), has “changed direction” and put acquisitions on hold in the wake of the pandemic and conveyancing boom.

Nick Hale, group chief executive, said ONP wanted to focus on service and technology before buying any more law firms.

He said the pandemic and the stamp duty holiday had created “challenging times” for conveyancing firms, some of which remained.

As a result, ONP had “changed our direction” to focus on “core brands” and improve turnaround times.

“We are putting a laser focus on the level of service we provide and the technology that we use to help provide that, in order to make sure that the service across our group is the absolute best it can be.

“Once we have achieved that, we may yet again look to buy other law firms in the future.”

Mr Hale said ONP was the third largest conveyancer by volume, with turnover of £49m in the last calendar year.

The law firm was bought by private equity firm Inflexion in 2019, and immediately after bought Stoke firm Grindeys, another major conveyancer.

The acquisition of Cavendish Legal Group followed in June 2020, in what the firm said would be the first of “a number of acquisitions of property-focused law firms”.

However, ONP said last month that it had increased staff numbers by 30% in the past year by organic growth, taking the total from 490 a year ago to 640. The firm, based in Stockport, highlighted the role of its training academy, which trains both new and experienced recruits.

Mr Hale described the market as “steady” after “the usual slight seasonal slowdown” in August, with the sale and purchase market remaining strong.

“The remortgage market in particular is starting to heat up as mortgage early repayment charges come to an end, so we expect the run-up to Christmas in this area of the market to be particularly strong and likely to overtake the property purchase market.”

Mr Hale said the rise in energy and living costs and inflation “could impact the sale and purchase part of the housing market in particular”, as people considered their options and mortgages became more expensive.

“This could impact the property market and start to cause a slowdown in instructions towards the end of the year. Our pipelines are still strong however and we expect to see a good number of completions through to the end of the year. “

A lot of people left the industry due to the pressures of the stamp duty holidays, he added, but ONP had “attracted back some great people” and needed to build on that by encouraging new entrants.

“As a conveyancing industry we need to better utilise technology to give our conveyancers the ability to do their jobs more efficiently and help them focus on the important parts of the transactions which are the more time-consuming elements.

“If we all focus on the pain points, we can work as an industry to bring down transaction times.”

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