Time for government to mandate reform of home-buying process

Conveyancing: Work now more financially viable

The government needs to step in to mandate reforms that promise to revolutionise the home buying and selling process, stakeholders have argued.

The roundtable organised by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) also heard that fees were going up, with a leading lender supporting the trend.

Many firms have continued to work at or near capacity after the stamp duty holiday ended a year ago, with the last two years only confirming that the old way of operating needs to change, participants heard.

Beth Rudolf, director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association, said the government needed to step in to bring order to the many initiatives around to speed up the home-buying process.

The Home Buying and Selling Group, which represents all the players in the market and advises government, has been trying to deliver it voluntarily but forthcoming research “makes it very clear that the barriers to uptake will prevent it from happening unless it is mandated”, she said.

Nicky Heathcote, chair of both Propertymark and the Conveyancing Association, said the group “has done as much as we possibly can now. We have given the answers, we have got everybody else on board. It now needs government to take the lead”.

Mark Montgomery, chief strategy officer at Simplify Group, agreed: “The adoption point is the challenging one. If the government were to set out a clear vision and say, ‘In three years’ time, this is how we are all going to be working,’ it would create a glide path.”

The work surge saw conveyancing fees go up. Andrew Lloyd, managing director of Search Acumen, said this made it “a bit more financially viable – I say that, rather than profitable – to be in conveyancing”.

Rob Houghton, chief executive of reallymoving, suggested this was a “normalisation” rather than an inflation: “There is a good argument that fees were too low before lockdown anyway.”

Eponine Pearce, risk manager (property risk) at Nationwide Building Society, explained that fee levels were of interest from a panel management perspective – firms that were the cheapest may not be “the best for extending our brand”.

But there was also evidence that the pressure led to more mistakes, especially as less experienced practitioners were drawn into the market.

Etienne Pollard, chief executive of conveyancing firm Juno, said: “It’s very easy to say ‘This is all marvellous, fill your boots’, but if you want to provide a service that people perceive is quality, you have to take a very firm line and say ‘We can take on these many clients and no more’.

“But that does not really solve the markets problem. It just means that one or two firms are doing the right thing for their clients, but where do the rest of them go? Probably to other players who don’t.”

Mr Montgomery said experienced lawyers burnt out by the pressure of the last two years deciding to leave had contributed to recruitment problems in the market.

“We have recruited a number of those into non-conveyancer roles because they have just said, ‘I cannot work that much’.” The churn of lawyers, especially among smaller firms “desperate to take on people”, had also reduced the market’s capacity to do the work.

Stephen Ward, director of strategy and external relations at CLC, said: “The undeniable message from the roundtable is that significant reform is coming to the property market. There are lots of initiatives and innovations out there that need to be brought together coherently. Once that is done, change could happen quickly.

“We intend to play our part in making it work. The CLC’s role is to ensure that those it regulates have the skills and structures available to take advantage of this new world to the benefit of clients and of legal service providers.”

A full write-up of the roundtable, which was chaired by Legal Futures Editor Neil Rose, can be found here.

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