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Private equity firm buys two leading conveyancing practices

Turner: Significant opportunity to grow further

The battle to consolidate the fragmented conveyancing market has stepped up after a private equity company acquired two of the biggest volume providers in the country.

Inflexion Private Equity Partners has bought Stockport-based O’Neill Patient (ONP) – consistently one of the five biggest conveyancing firms when judged by Land Registry applications – and Stoke firm Grindeys, which is in the top 20.

It indicated that there would be more acquisitions to come.

The investment was made by Inflexion’s Buyout Fund V, its dedicated mid‐market fund, and it said “the companies we work with see headcount double and revenue grow by 20% year-on-year”.

A one-time investor in National Accident Helpline, Inflexion has a broad portfolio of investments that includes legal publisher Chambers & Partners, vets chain Medivet, Times Higher Education and Virgin Experience Days.

Grindeys has owned ONP since 2012, but the holding company’s four directors resigned as of last Friday and Sue Brown – ONP’s chief executive – was appointed the same day and is now listed on Companies House as its only director.

Project Ophelia Bidco Ltd is named as Grindeys’ owner, again since last Friday – its directors are Ms Brown and Daren Churchill, Grindeys’ long-serving finance director.

There have been no figures put on the deal, but the group’s most recent published accounts, for 2017, gave it a profit of £9.4m on a turnover of £36.2m. It employed 470 fee-earners and 60 administrative and support staff.

ONP’s 2017 accounts put its share of turnover at nearly £27m and profit at £9.2m, with the highest-earning member of the LLP receiving a profit share of £4.7m. Grindeys LLP is a small business for Companies House purposes and only files abbreviated accounts as a result.

The official records also show that last month Grindeys satisfied seven charges over the company, and ONP a charge from Royal Bank of Scotland.

Established in 1987, ONP processes over 88,000 transactions per year for residential property purchases and remortgages, marketing its services through its relationships with panel managers, mortgage brokers and banks, whose referrals make up around 90% of its business.

In a statement, Inflexion said: “The market for residential conveyancing and remortgaging tends to be local and fragmented, with even the largest players commanding single digit market shares.

“This provides excellent scope for service improvement and further investment in technology via consolidation, with the purchase of Grindeys a first step towards that.

“ONP is also exceptionally positioned to cater to the market’s shift over the last two years towards remortgages, given management’s specific expertise in this area and tech‐platform investment to cater to this.”

Inflexion managing partner Simon Turner added: “ONP has created an excellent property and remortgage conveyancing firm which has significant opportunity to grow further both by gaining market share and M&A.

“The business benefits from unique technology, which we will work with management to further develop.”

Ms Brown added: “Our use of technology to enhance the client experience has given us an edge, one which we look forward to developing with Inflexion’s impressive in‐house digital team to continue to innovate in our market and deliver an exceptional service at scale to our clients.”

In February, Palamon Capital Partners acquired My Home Move [1] – owner of Premier Property Lawyers and Advantage Property Lawyers – to create what was the by far the largest conveyancing business in the country in combination with its existing investment, the Simplify Group, which owns property firms DC Law and JS Law.