The biggest conveyancing firms have benefited the most from the recession, while the number of practices involved in conveyancing has continued to fall, a survey has revealed.
The top 200 firms took a 36% share of the market last year, compared to 26% in 2007. Seven conveyancing firms completed more than 500 transactions per month, compared to only four in 2007.
The Conveyancing Market Tracker survey by Search Acumen, based on data from the Land Registry, also revealed that there were 5,871 active conveyancing firms last year, some 24% fewer less than eight years ago.
While total activity in the market rose by 28% from 2013 to over a million transactions, a further 204 firms ceased to carry out conveyancing.
At the same time, the average conveyancing practice carried out 33% more transactions in 2014 than the year before, 175 compared to 131. This was two transactions more per firm than in 2007 and the highest figure for 10 years.
“The fall and rise of conveyancing in recent years has seen many firms fall by the wayside,” Mark Riddick, chairman of Search Acumen, said.
“Low volumes of transactions in the recession were fuelled by little more than debt, divorce and death. It meant conveyancing in the lean years quickly became a story of ‘survival of the fittest’.
“Those businesses that rode out the tough times are now reaping even greater rewards than they did at the last peak of the market.
“Especially at the top end of the food chain, more people are coming through the door of the recession survivors than was the case even in the heady days of 2007.”
The five biggest conveyancing firms recorded the biggest increase in transaction volumes since 2007, a rise of 54%, with their market share doubling to 6%.
However, their transaction growth rate last year of 38% was less than the 49% achieved by the next five firms in terms of size.
Though almost all firms did well last year, firms ranked from 11 to 50 in the table, and those outside the top 200, still had slightly less work than in 2007.
In a further sign of consolidation, the top 1,000 conveyancing firms carried out 70% of all transactions, compared to 57% in 2007.
Mr Riddick predicted that competition would “hot up” even more this year, if, as expected, the number of transactions fell slightly.
“Conveyancers must do all they can to protect their position and close the gap to those above them so they are not the next ones left behind.”
Asked about the three greatest challenges they needed to overcome to grow their firms this year, 60% of firms cited the need to “improve systems and processes”.
Coming a close second, with 58%, was competition from volume conveyancers. The need to increase staff recruitment and training was cited by 56% of firms.