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Having been involved in the business of home buying and selling for just over 40 years, I thought I had experienced all of the frustrations that one could. However, I did not consider how annoyed and frustrated I would feel when my daughter (Anna) and future son-in-law (Chris) tried to purchase a property for the first time.

First off, they obtained a few quotes for conveyancing. None of them looked the same. It was a devil's own job to work out which was the best, and I don't just mean on price. They decided to instruct a local conveyancer, because someone had said to Chris's dad they were ok.

Emails were rare (let alone texts), personal visits to the conveyancer were nigh-on impossible and phone calls were slowly returned. The conveyancer himself took off for a two week holiday, which we are all entitled to, but it would have been nice if he had said he was going away and that locum cover would be in place when quoting for the work.

The mortgage offer was issued (no delays there at all) two weeks before a contract was sent out and a number of reasonable additional enquiries were raised. However, it took nearly a fortnight for them to be replied to. Yet no one (buyer's lawyer, seller's lawyer, estate agent or seller) could explain where and why they were delayed

The conveyancer sent a query to the lender, the lender sent it to the valuer, and a delay ensued because the valuer said he never received it. Had I not suggested that Anna and Chris should ask the broker to investigate this, they would still be waiting.

A contract package was sent to Anna and Chris consisting of;

Contract and Report

Property Information Form

Fixtures and Fittings Form


Office Copies and Plan

Water and Drainage Search

Local Search

Environmental Search

Additional Enquiries and Replies

Mortgage Deed

Planning Permission

Very few of these documents meant anything to my Anna and Chris. However, having now spent an hour with me, they signed and returned the required documents and now hope that exchange will take place very soon.

For all the safety procedures that exist, and the instructions that were given, Chris quite rightly pointed out that he and Anna could sign the mortgage deed (the one document that needed witnessing) in front of no one and he would take it to work to be witnessed. They didn't, but one has to wonder how often is that done

Another relatively simple first time buyer transaction, with a short chain, took ages to proceed, was wrapped in mystery and confusion, was stressful and was not as watertight as it should have been.

Fifteen years ago, when I was still a conveyancer, nine times out of ten, my simple contract report to my client was;

I have read all of the documents provided to me by your seller's conveyancer and, in my opinion, they reveal nothing which would affect the value, use and enjoyment and saleability of the property.

I calculate that I have helped nearly 10,000 people move home. I have not had one claim for a mistake or negligence levied against me by a client, or lender.

The trouble is I can't blame their conveyancer. He has to prove that his client has seen and approved everything, and he belts and braces that by sending everything to them (even though the contents of most documents appear to be rubbish, as Chris put it). He can no longer use his knowledge and experience to take a view on certain matters. And yet for all this red tape and bureaucracy it doesn't mean that the conveyancer is safeguarded, the lender is safeguarded or the client has any idea what all of the paperwork really means.

I was going to write an article on whether or not a shortage of conveyancers was slowing down the home buying and selling process. That will probably be my next article. However, I decided to write a piece on how slow' and inefficient' the home buying and selling process really is anyway.

What needs to be done

*Rob Hailstone is Founder of the Bold Legal Group

rh@boldgroup.co.uk www.boldgroup.co.uk


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    Rob - your article is so true of so so many conveyancers we now face. Standards are at rock bottom, at a time when you'd have thought standards would be so high because firms were competing for a smaller pie of transactions following the downturn. Instead firms have cut corners to keep profitable (inferior staff legal knowledge, lower wages, lower prices, recruiting to fill the space, without through to quality and their own clients).

    Of course, so many people think they are employing an actual qualified lawyer, but sadly not even close in many cases. Not a solicitor, legal executive or anyone on their way to either. They don't even ask about the person...and some firms cash in on that.

    Yet it is so simple to be a good conveyancer. Decent wage attracts a lawyer who will earn their keep, but not just sit behind a desk and do the job, but go out there and be personable. Go the extra mile to promote the team, firm and help estate agents. After all, we are on the same hymn sheet.

    Yes, you have the profiteers who volume it out, instead of putting client welfare first. So the trick is not to use those sort of outfits. Sadly many estate agents refer to them for the cashback (in itself ok) but despite knowing how mediocre they are. Now that is bad. Weed those estate agents out too.

    Its a longer game with the latter, but spot the former volume based lawyers and refuse them.

    Sure, we'd all like to charge more, but there is scope. Offer more value compared to your competitors and explain concisely in your quotation conversations/emails why your fee is what it is. Don't boast about things you don't deliver, but actually deliver. Work referrers will appreciate the quality, and they will still refer as they too will appreciate how good you are, as they get praise for recommending you.

    Yet my every day sadness is when I exchange contracts, calling up so many conveyancers and the conversation is one where I dread to think of the quality they just offered their own clients. Too many should not be offering 'conveyancing' to the hard earning public.

    The public are not stupid - so as Rob says - if they are well informed in how to choose a conveyancer, standards rise, and others wont need to write a similar experience to Rob's.

    • 19 September 2014 21:34 PM
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    Part of the problem Katrina is that the public do not understand the full importance of the conveyancing process (maybe we should be explaining it better) and the myriad of issues that need checking to ensure that they can enjoy their homes without interruption. Rip Off Britain this week highlighted a few of those many issues:

    • 17 September 2014 08:32 AM
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    The system is not infallible and can be slow. Often there are delays that no-one can explain, often because the other conveyancer does not give a reason and chasing and pestering does little to help.

    One of the big problems that we have is that we can no longer just say that all is fine so you can sign the contract. We now have to prove that everything is fine and justify that view so that we can show, if it comes to it, that we did everything right. It is not just to show you have done your job properly but has a knock on effect for CQS and indemnity insurance.

    The other major problems, which can be behind delays, difficulties in contact and appointments etc, is fees. When scale fees were removed for conveyancing and set fees introduced it was the worst that could happen. Lots of clients base instructions on fees not competence so in order to have business fees dropped. Estate agents regularly charge 1-2.5% of the sale price and the legal fees, for often 6-8 weeks work can work out for a 200,000 house at 0.3% of the sale price. With the fees low to compete it means that firms have to take on higher volumes that we used to in order to survive and make any profit which then has the issue of causing delays if there is a lot of work at the same time and slower communication as the conveyancer is trying to get through the work.

    One of the best ways to improve the current conveyancing process would be to remove set fees for conveyancing and bring back the set scale fees that used to exist. The conveyancer would then be paid a profitable rate for each transaction meaning they would not need the same volume and could focus on giving each client the attention they deserved. The shame is this will never happen as the public do not want to pay what the job is worth and generally want it done cheap.

    • 17 September 2014 07:56 AM
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    Great account Rob. We know at Hoowla that using technology provides transparency, identifies accountability and helps transactions progress more smoothly and will modernise conveyancing. Estate agents have embraced technology to help them run their agencies and communicate with their buyers and sellers, it's about time the legal industry caught up. The gap need properly bridging between all professions involved in the transaction. That is our ambition at Hoowla!

    Not that you need any inspiration writing your article on the shortage of conveyancers Rob, but you may find this article I wrote useful - http://www.insideconveyancing.co.uk/content/areyoufeelingthepressureofincreasedbusiness

    • 13 September 2014 13:04 PM
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