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Conveyancers and searches in firing line of new government probe

Conveyancers and the speed of local council searches have come in for criticism as details have emerged of the government’s consultation on the house buying process. 

The consultation - which we flashed at midnight Saturday here - was a surprise to many in the industry, not least because it was launched outside conventional working hours.

It seeks to make house moving faster, simpler and less stressful; specifically, it says it wants to assess ways of avoiding, or possibly banning, gazumping. 


Support documentation released yesterday after the initial announcement suggests that the government is aware of issues regarding conveyancing.

The documentation says: “We are aware that the conveyancing process is a source of frustration for many buyers and sellers. Around 40 per cent of buyers and sellers [in a government-commissioned survey of 2,000 buyers and sellers] felt that the exchange of contracts was delayed and where a delay occurred, they were likely to blame the conveyancer for the other party. When asked about how the home buying and selling service could be improved, around a third of buyers and sellers wanted a faster service from conveyancers. This is recognised by conveyancing sector and they are already planning to put in place a number of improvements.”

The government also says there is scope for more technical innovation in speeding up the delivery of local government searches, and scope for more competition between conveyancers in general.

“We are aware that there are some firms which offer an online conveyancing service and that there are a number of initiatives already being pursued in both the private and public sectors which could help to facilitate e-conveyancing. To provide a firm foundation for a digital revolution in conveyancing, the government will continue to work with HM Land Registry to explore how data on property, such as leases, restrictions, covenants and easements, can be made available more easily. The government believes that this will improve the transparency of the purchase process and allow the private sector to create innovative ways to use this information” the background notes continue.

On estate agents, the support documentation queries whether complaints from the public are in fact under-estimated. “We are keen to know whether the apparent reluctance to complain about poor service received from estate agents is because people are not aware of how to raise a complaint” says the documentation.

“We are also aware that some consumers are guided by the agent towards using a certain conveyancer or mortgage broker and these agents may be in a commercial relationship with this party and receive a referral fee in exchange for making an introduction. This obviously increases the costs to consumers and may hamper competition” it warns.

On mortgages, the support documentation says the call for evidence consultation process wants to explore ways in which the application process could be speeded up, without exposing lenders to additional risk of default, while giving greater certainty to consumers over whether their application will be successful. 

You can see the full documentation here.

  • Rob Hailstone

    Should the headline read: Estate Agents, Conveyancers and searches in firing line of new government probe ?

    The questions under the 'Estate Agent heading are:

    Q1. Should the industry do more to make customers aware of how to complain?
    a. If so, how?

    Q2. Should the government take further action to enforce current transparency regulations regarding disclosure of referral fees? a. If so, what action should be taken?

    Q3. What would the impact be of banning referral fees?

    Q4. Should the government introduce more regulation for estate agents? a. If so, what sort of regulation would be appropriate

    The questions under the 'Conveyancer' heading are:

    Q5. What should industry do to help consumers make more informed decisions when selecting a conveyancer?
    a. How could government help facilitate this?

    Q6. What improvements can be made to the process of property searches in order to speed up home buying and selling?

    Q7. Would there be an advantage to encouraging buyers and sellers to use the same conveyancing provider?
    a. If so, how could it work, without creating conflict of interest problems?

  • icon

    The one thing I constantly hear is that online and upfront Agents delay the sale process, they've already got their money paid upfront so have little incentive to help sales proceed forward as they have new consumers to target for their upfront fees as a priority?

    How true is this?

    I'd also add from a personal point of view about the 'hated HIPs'.

    In Leicester City pre HIPs a Local Authority Search was £120 and took weeks.

    Due to HIPS this dropped to £60 plus a free refresh within six months, the search took 2-4 days.

    After HIPS, searches went back at one stage to 8 weeks and have now gone up to £88.

    Maybe someone should dream up a 'pack' of conveyancing documents ordered early in the sales process, PIPS anyone?

  • David Bennett

    Totally agree with Colin SC. The upfront fee brigade have no incentive to help a sale along, as their income does not rely on completed sales, just new instructions. Mentioned so many times, on these forums. HIPS was the legal pack and generally put together within 10 days. It just went wrong because estate agents saw an opportunity to earn another fee and the seller ended up paying for the same service, twice.

    Buyers should have in place a mortgage offer, in principle, so they know what they can afford and not wait until they have found the dream home, to hunt around for the best deal, slowing the process.

    There is a lack of mortgage valuers, again slowing down the process. Many valuers complain that they only see about half of the valuation fee, as the lender takes it's 'arrangement fee'!

  • Rob  Davies

    Why did the government choose to announce the consultation on a Saturday night? Very odd.

  • Martin Williams

    The very fact that they put gazumping top of the list shows how out of touch they are, typical "southern" comment again.

  • icon

    We launched a pimped up version of currently suspended HIP pack in August - no upfront cost and no more expensive than the tradition route with all the normal kick backs.

    Working phenomally well....... to the point that we’ve had to limit it as we a bar if all the costs!

    Average reduction in delays of 8/9 weeks substantially improving the EA cash flow and reducing issues!

    We passed ALL of our existing and rolling data over to the gov....... not sure they will do anything though? It does need legislating to make it perfect!!


    Gareth - When we did HIPs Close Brothers offered us a deferred payment plan, a good way to finance your scheme?

  • Rob Hailstone

    Good work Gareth. If you like, please send me your rolling data (in confidence) I have a face to face coming up with the gov. rh@boldgroup.co.uk


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