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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

Conveyancers want estate agents licensed and sellers to compile log books

A conveyancers’ trade body has told the government that it wants the house buying process to be modernised by having estate agents licensed and ensuring sellers provide search, title and survey-style information ‘up front’ in the form of a property log book.

In a proposal very reminiscent of the controversial Home Information Packs introduced in the early 200s by the then-Labour government, the Conveyancing Association says the provision of such a log book would be an essential element in speeding up and modernising the house buying process.

The CA makes the proposals in its submission to the Call For Evidence made by the Department of Communities and Local Government as part of its process to improve the home buying and selling process. This consultation process closed last evening.

The CA’s response is drawn from a 10-point plan, outlined at various stages over the past year.

Key suggestions and proposals include:

- “Sellers should be encouraged to provide much greater upfront provision of data before marketing their property including (when such information is available digitally): title data; a comprehensive conveyancing property information form; search data; and structural information. This information would then become part of the property log book”;

- “The establishment of a property log book for each individual property in the UK detailing all required information which would save wasted time in collating the same data on each transaction”;

- “The licensing of estate agents and the requirement of agents to pass a fit and proper person test in order to trade. The CA is generally supportive of the use of referral fees as they often provide transparency and deliver enhanced service levels due to the agreements in place”;

- “Greater levels of information to be supplied to consumers about the work of conveyancers in order to increase their knowledge of the service and help them understand what they should be looking for in a firm; plus the establishment of a Government-controlled website where consumers are exposed to the relevant information, explaining their options and the process”; 

- “Digitally-available search data in order to populate a property’s information forms on marketing; reducing the number of questions within search requests to ensure they are relevant; digitising local authority data sets and making other sets such as title, covenants, leases, etc, digitally accessible”;

- “Moving to a digital-focused conveyancing process allowing the home mover to access information when it suits them; enabling quicker collation of data in order to advise the client; developing Blockchain solutions to further secure transactions and protect client money through the dis-intermediated distribution of funds on completion and verification of data which can then be accessed upon the next dealing with the property; introducing machine-readable, digital and intelligent transaction forms”;

- “Government encouragement for the provision of a digital signature of deeds in conjunction with the Land Registry making the digital signature of deeds a simple and user-friendly process for the conveyancer and the consumer utilising biometric data to avoid fraud.  This will lead to simpler registration formalities and more robust proof of identity procedures utilising a central register of client ID at the Land Registry”;

- “The Government should support and authorise the Land Registry digitisation programmes for greater digitisation of the registers and the creation of the Local Land Charge Register”;

- “Biometric ID verification and anti-money laundering checks to be introduced in order to identify not only the person being transacted with but also their relationship (or lack of it) to the property and the bank account to which proceeds are being sent, thus avoiding fraud and money laundering”;

- “Ensuring clients have a mortgage decision-in-principle before making an offer on a property and that they have been property vetted financially. The creation of legally-binding offers – such as reservation agreements as in the new-build sector - would increase confidence and certainty that a transaction would complete, and financial penalties should be introduced for any party who then withdraws from the transaction.”

“This response is all about delivering increased certainty for all parties and this is achievable if we improve the use of digital services and seek to use new and existing technology in order to cut down on duplication, to improve consumer understanding, to reduce wasted time, to guard against fraud, to cut out unnecessary costs and delays, the list goes on” says Beth Rudolf, director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association.

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    Conveyances need to look at themselves first as my experience is that the majority of attributable sales fall through because of legal delays. How about
    1. Solicitor work on a no sale no fee principal. This gives them ownership of problems and delays.
    2. Don’t close for lunch.
    3. Work later than 5pm. We are inthe 21st century after all.
    4. Why not weekend?
    5. React to agents phone calls.

    The Conveyancing trade can do SO much to help but in my experience it is slowness on their side that causes far more problems than an unlicensed agent.

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    I’ve been in the industry for 15 years and I can honestly say that I don’t know one decent solicitor. If they’re not out having a two hour golfing lunch they don’t bother to ring you back anyway. When something is URGENT they dictate a letter and send it second class. Solicitors need to wake up and work with Estate agents, we are not the enemy and if they do work with us we can jointly speed up the process and cause less fall throughs!

  • Rob Hailstone

    Andrew, Paul, I find it very concerning that you think like you do. I know hundreds, if not thousands of conveyancers and the vast majority work long stressful hours, and earning only modest amounts.

    Part of the problem might be that there are nearly 4000 firms who carry out some conveyancing. Many of them, probably 2500 plus, undertake few transactions each year. It could be those firms that are giving the firms that do try and care a bad name.

    If you both tell me where you are located I will find you a number of firms that offer and provide the best conveyancing service this broken system will allow.

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    This is all very well if
    1. Your client will accept a recommendation. The vast majority of clients already have their chosen conveyancer lined up.
    2. All other links in the chain are also happy to accept a recommendation. Otherwise it is a waste of time.

    If the legal profession got off their high horses and moved into the 21st century then yes things would move forward.

    I attended the house-buying review at portcullis house, hosted by Grant Schapps, the then housing minister, 7-8 years ago, involving representatives of ALL housing market factions, from agents to surveyors, the CML to land registry, even Kirsty Allsop was there. Every stakeholder pointed the finger fairly and squarely at the legal profession as the major cause of delays yet still nothing has changed. My previous comments still apply, most importantly no sale no fee. Until that is instigated the legal profession has no “ownership” of problems. We as agents have to do the whole job and expense of remarketing after a fall through with no reimbursement whilst most lawyers (admittedly not all) send their bill for aborted costs regardless. What incentive for speed or efficiency does that engender? None.

     
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    I've been saying for years that online registers of property information such as searches etc is the real key to reducing the time it takes to complete on a sale/purchase, but over the 15 years I've been involved in the property industry this has never been looked at. People selling or buying a property also need to be educated in how the process actually works in order to be able to fill out the correct paperwork and return it in as shorter timescale as possible. It seems this is one of those issues where neither the majority of estate agents or solicitors are prepared to take ownership.

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    Rob, I’m in North, West and East Yorkshire. Call me on 07768 294629.

  • Nichola Taylor Cockayne

    The HIPs didn't really work the first time, and cost many people who trained as providers a lot of money and time. However, i do agree that searches and further information should be available digitally in the same fashion that the EPC register and title registers are available. Waiting 6 weeks plus for a local search is criminal!

    It is worth noting that there is still an enormous amount of homeowners who are not internet savvy and require paper and phone based methods. I do agree that digital signatures should be permitted to help speed things up, with the appropriate regulation of course, but both systems will need run in parallel for a while yet.

    Our firm is just about to go into its 20th Year, and for much of that time we have been regulated by NAEA, who have strict requirements for estate agents. To introduce an additional licence requirement is foolish and open to bungling, but to have a set industry standard and require estate agents to become part of ONE regulating body like NAEA for example, would help across the industry and stay within fair competition. Especially with some of the cowboys (even corporate ones) out there.

    A digital property portfolio, accessible to edit only by legal professionals with a data log of any amendments and removals would speed things up, log developments to the property, sale transactions and so on, would be good. The buyers and sellers, and estate agents for example, could view the portfolio on a read only basis. Allowing a buyer to be able to amend the contents is open for all kinds of fiddling with.

    The 'lock in' e.g. loss of deposit should a buyer wish to retract their bid, is already a key part of the selling process in parts of Europe/nearby - Malta and Norway i believe are such places. This is also also how the auction method works, once a bid is accepted. If the government is hoping for a move to 'auction style buying and selling' there's an enormous amount of work to do to get there.

    While we're at it, shall we simplify the mortgage, probate and divorce industry too?

    David Bennett

    Hold on. HIPs didn't work, the first time because Conveyancers should have provided the HIP. Not those that trained, to sit at a laptop, downloading the legal documents from Express Legal etc, to hawk the HIP round to estate agents for c£200, to include an EPC and for the agent to sell it to their vendor for c£400. Only for the poor, unsuspecting seller (the agent's client), to get charged again, by their conveyancer, once a sale was agreed. It was estate agents that dug the hole for HIPs. Back then, we recommended a conveyancing solicitor to draw up the HIP and encourage the seller to return to them, to finish off the job, with an adjustment in the fee.

     
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    (David Bennett - so true....and I miss HIPs as when properly produced, deals could fly...just like auction packs now...well actually the standard of those is very hit and miss)

    Andrew – please don’t lump conveyancers together, that’s the problem, they range dramatically in terms of quality from not fit for purpose, to seriously impressive. The worst I have seen it in 25 years.

    I have identified various reasons for mediocre conveyancers over the years to now:
    - poor legal training (no senior colleagues to learn from/ therefore no improvement even after years of doing the job)
    - no stake in the law firm, or real chances to climb the ladder, so no real drive to be excellent/go that extra mile
    - ineffective managers to train them
    - the early 2000 model of using cheaper paralegal staff, thinking they will be trained in-house, but work levels always prevent it
    - low salaries
    - senior managers imposing profit targets rather than ensuring quality is delivered
    - being allowed by their regulator to act on both sides
    - the massive amounts of referral fees paid to certain estate agents as “they just pay so much, we don’t care how rubbish they are at conveyancing”….so the law firm has no reason to improve quality and it gets worse

    And for me, directly linked to mediocre conveyancing is digitalization, fancy IT software bells and whistles, more electronic this and that - anyone arguing to keep referral fees of course - which all simply mask the real issue, the shoddy person actually behind the wheel. We already have instant IT.....called email....but conveyancers rarely use it promptly, sometimes weeks of waiting for a single email. The person is the problem. Improve the person/conveyancer, and Andrew Richardson, you might become a fan of conveyancers yet.

    Dynamic conveyancers on the other hand drive deals through by deliberately recruiting the very best legally trained conveyancers, who put service first, and profit a way off second – knowing service will attract profit. Who therefore have instant solutions to defects and are therefore confident to keep up a fast pace. These conveyancers are well paid, true, but because they generate lots of business, and they train a wider team in replicating this. They even hound slow lawyers. A win win.

    So, yes, mediocre conveyancers are an obstacle, and they delay deals, but we best be clear on what we mean by ‘delay’. Mortgage advisers can delay, mortgage companies can delay, mortgage valuers can delay, local government search departments can delay, surveyors are busy and can delay. And so can estate agents.

    How long do conveyancers get before it is considered a delay? Or should I ask - how long do estate agents get to sell the property before they are called slow/blamed for the timescale? Ironically, find me a conveyancer who has ever contacted an estate agent while the property is being marketed to say ‘hey, when can we expect to see the listing on Rightmove’ or ‘have you given viewer feedback to the seller’ or ‘when can we expect you to find a buyer so we can begin our conveyancing’.
    A bit of perspective on each others roles is therefore crucial to avoid unfair critique. The goal is to work together after all. Especially as – let’s be honest, who really understands the threat facing an individual conveyancer on EACH AND EVERY sale or purchase they handle? Scarily few.

    Threat?

    Yes, career ending, and law firm closing.

    If a conveyancer makes a mistake - and you can make 50+ per sale/purchase - the client will sue. How many things can an estate agent do wrong to get sued. Claims against conveyancers are high, and can and do range from £30 to £ms+. Millions!? From 'hey you didn’t secure an EPC’ or daft guarantee assignments, to ‘we have no legal access to our property/part of it is trespassing on a neighbour’s title'.

    Some seriously high compensation cash can be paid out to clients, and law firms will all have to foot the cost of the excess – running into tens of thousands in many cases even more - from their own pocket before PII might kick in, and that has to be found from pure profit......as does the hike next year in that firm’s cover…or maybe cover will not be offered - and a conveyancer being paid an average fee of £700 for 12 weeks of work isn't going to pay that excess very quickly.

    But also the individual conveyancer too. If a conveyancer makes a legal mistake, and compensation is paid out to a client, maybe happening twice, certainly three times, not only will that law firm think carefully about whether that person should keep their job, but those claims stay with that conveyancer making future jobs harder to secure, if at all.

    And all that risk for a £700 average conveyancing fee……and perhaps because …an estate agent had to secure their commission target by that end of month and kept nagging and nagging ‘Conveyancer B’ that they were at some kind of fault, when it was ‘Conveyancer S who had paid a massive referral fee, and was unable to do their job property and could not help to offer a speedy solution to Conveyancer B.

    It happens, too often.

    Recently I called another conveyancer to exchange contracts, and how they spoke, and how they audibly sounded disorganized gave me no confidence that their client had received decent defect-free conveyancing. I actually felt bad for their client.

    There are many of us conveyancers whose only reason for doing the job is to ensure the whole process to be defect free, and as prompt as it can be, so we look good, the referring estate agent looks good, and everyone tells all they know about both. That’s our model anyway. Never the fee. And I can tell you now, offering a ‘no completion no fee’ would make no difference to our standard whatsoever. A complete red herring to improving quality. Ironically, too many who I believe offer mediocre conveyancing, also offer no completion no fee.

    So yes, rid us of the mediocre conveyncers, but Paul you also need to rid your industry of poor practice. The Agents who simply call to say ‘can I have an update’ and offer nothing in return, or the Agents who do not vet buyers properly and so the deal never stands a chance of reaching exchange, or the agents who over value to secure business, rather than putting the customer first. Or who tie the public into long threatening contracts, or who fail to involve themselves in the legal process after an offer has been agreed.

    We actually promote agents on our website (with a new website on the way with far more) as there are some seriously good ones out there, and we like encountering new ones, ones who we can contact for help and vice versa, who know what we do, and they know we value their good way of working……so deals sale through.

  • David Bennett

    Very thorough piece Tim and well said. Written from a conveyancer's perspective. I strongly believe that if estate agents and conveyancers swapped roles for a day, they would begin to understand each other and gain some respect. First weekn in January would be good? EAs get stressed because the commission is at stake - something Purple Brick's clients might learn, in time.

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