Conveyancers have been urged to embrace the opportunities offered by new rules on the information that must be included in property listings.
James Munro, senior manager of National Trading Standards’ estate and letting agency team, said its work was aimed at trying “to change the culture of conveyancing and change the culture of marketing properties”.
The first of a three-stage process on upfront information took effect this month and requires the inclusion on all listings of a property’s council tax band or rate and its price and tenure information.
Last month, the team issued an opinion – developed with the Competition and Markets Authority – that just having ‘price on application’ in property listings contravened consumer protection legislation.
The next two phases – which Mr Munro said would probably be implemented together, but he would not say when – will require the upfront disclosure of non-standard material information, such as restrictive covenants, flood risk and other specific factors that may impact a property.
The goal was to allow buyers to make an “informed decision” at the moment a property was marketed, he told this week’s Bold Legal Group summer conference. “If I’ve got to call the estate agent to ask if a property is freehold or leasehold… it’s a waste of everybody’s time.”
He continued: “What we’re actually trying to do now is get agents, sellers and conveyancers at the earliest opportunity, preferably before the property is marketed, so that you can help to get this information out there.”
Speaking afterwards to Legal Futures, Mr Munro said he had encountered resistance from conveyancers to get involved this early given the risk that the transaction may not go ahead. “It’s about someone making the first move,” he suggested.
Estate agents also needed to realise that it was better to uncover a problem like a restrictive covenant early on, he added, and that conveyancers may be able to deal with it.
In a later session, Iain McKenzie, chief executive of the Guild of Property Professionals, said transactions were lengthening, to the detriment of both estate agents and conveyancers’ cash flow.
He recounted how, at the start of his career, “I would sit in a person’s living room and win the business because I was the only one to talk about upfront information and get the transaction moving quicker. If I could do it 35 years ago, why can’t we do it now?”
One conveyancer from the audience said her firm now sought instruction at the start of a sale and had “massively reduced the timeline of the transaction and the cost”
Similarly, Jon Lay, managing director of legal services at leading agency Spicerhaart, said his company was stressing to its network the value of engaging with solicitors as soon as possible and asking sellers to provide the material information.
Asked about concerns that a consumer would not know how to interpret material information without guidance, Rob Hailstone, founder of the Bold Legal Group, said: “That’s why we want you instructed early on.”
The conference also heard that the industry-wide Home Buying and Selling Group was rewriting the government guides on how to buy and sell to encourage early instruction. The hope was that the major property portals – which are changing their systems to incorporate material information – would make the guides available too.