High street solicitors are losing out to specialist conveyancing businesses in capturing clients, new research  has shown, but all lawyers still have much to improve on client communication.
More than a third of clients would even consider paying more for a premium service, it found.
The survey of 1,000 homebuyers found that 57% of those who bought within the last year used a local solicitor, compared to 73% of those who bought between three and ten years ago.
The report by InfoTrack  suggested that “blind loyalty to previously used firms is coming to an end”, as consumers seek out the speed and convenience of instant quotes from conveyancers who offer always-open online services.
Adam Bullion, InfoTrack’s general marketing manager, said specialist conveyancers were more likely to offer instant quotes, hence the increase in business.
The report said the shift was unsurprising. “Home movers are used to real-time comparison sites and near-instant service, and so too expect that from conveyancers.”
At the same time, despite the apparent appetite for shopping around online – 59% obtained at least two quotes, far higher than in the past – approaching half of consumers surveyed (44%) said they found it hard to differentiate between conveyancing firms because they all seem the same.
This meant other decision-making factors grew in importance, with factors such as recommendation and reputation leading the way – just 12% said price.
“There is, however, one very significant growing variable in this,” the report said. “Offering online conveyancing (important for just 8% overall) is a pivotal reason for choosing a firm for 23% of 18-24s. This makes it the joint third most influential choice factor in that age group.”
Consumers generally viewed conveyancing “as predominantly process driven”, but the survey uncovered a “widespread desire for consultancy about the home moving process (which 50% agree that conveyancers should provide more of) and regular communication during the move – important to 64%”.
It explained: “In the most basic terms, people want the most arduous administrative tasks taken care of, their money moved around safely and efficiently, and advice when needed. But, arguably, those requirements have always been there.
“What conveyancers really need to understand is that consumers also want to receive information about their purchase in the way that they want, when they want – and they won’t use a business twice that fails to meet their needs.”
The problem was that a sizeable number of respondents found their experience with a conveyancer to be frustrating (41%), or they felt neutral about it (17%) – “which doesn’t equate to a great write-up”.
Communication was the main cause of probolems. Only 22% of people said they were swiftly informed of delays during their home moving process, and just 28% felt they received prompt progress reports.
The report said: “These statistics paint a picture of people wanting a high degree of efficiency when it comes to communication and advice from conveyancers. The upshot of which is an evolution in the word ‘service’.
“Today, how conveyancers communicate is every bit as important as what they communicate. And there is a growing need for better communication via alternative means (fulfilling the demand for online portals, email and websites, instead of phone conversations)…
“The expectations present all conveyancers with huge opportunity, and the issues many consumers experience are relatively easy to solve through modernisation of the conveyancing service.”
Conveyancers had to understand that the way to do this was not by offering “more phone conversations and letters” – nearly half of respondents (47%) “openly want more digital communication”.
The report concluded: “Indeed, with 35% of respondents suggesting that they’d pay more for a service with a premium customer service focus, modernising is about thriving more than it is surviving.
“If there’s one lesson conveyancers can take from the survey it’s that the rewards for meeting consumer expectations are out there. It’s just a question of who moves first to claim them.”
InfoTrack cited Richard Roberts, a partner of Matlock firm Lovedays Solicitors, who said: “It’s evident from the research that in order to survive in this market, conveyancers now need to utilise the digital platforms that are available to them. Home-movers want to be in regular contact with their conveyancer at a time that is convenient for them.
“To stay competitive, we’re using digital solutions that not only allow us to work more efficiently, but also enable us to track our progress so we can easily update our clients, ultimately improving the customer experience. We have also enabled our website to be device friendly so consumers can go on the site while on the go.”