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Conveyancer says transaction problems down to others and not solicitors

A law firm says the problems with housing transactions lie not with issues like fall-throughs but with “people’s general lack of understanding of how the conveyancing system works.”

Jonathan Williams, a partner specialising in property law at Roythornes Solicitors operating in the Midlands and across East Anglia, says these issues will prevent government attempts to end gazumping, fall-throughs and other problems affecting the transaction process.

“Yes, it’s true that people do sometimes lose money during the selling and buying process but it’s only a small problem when we consider the much bigger picture – in over 30 years as a conveyancing solicitor I have not seen a huge amount of abortive transactions” he says.


He says that because “anyone can set themselves up as an estate agent” there is a chance that they will not have noticed defects in the title deeds or the absence of essential paperwork needed to make a successful sale.

“Conveyancing transactions are not just plagued by a lack of preparation, but also by offers taken from people who do not have the means to buy” Williams continues.

“Conveyancing has become more onerous and time consuming, with the risk management required for lawyers, buyers, sellers and mortgagees adding further expense. In my view it’s not worth the government banning gazumping to try and fix a system which although not ideal is not broken either” he insists. 

“The fact is that moving home and getting the best price for our properties are highly emotive issues, and will remain so regardless of the rules around one annoying practice. Why not instead educate potential buyers and sellers on better preparation and seeking good and informed counsel?” he concludes.

In recent months, conveyancing industry bodies have called on their sector to embrace more modernisation and HM Land Registry has made outspoken comments on the need for conveyancers to improve their processes.

  • Peter Ambrose

    Whilst I agree with the sentiments, I'm really not sure that suggesting that estate agents should carry the can for identify defective title!
    I agree that the governments focus is totally in the wrong place (gazumping is the very least of our worries!) but the complexities of every transaction these days are challenging for some of the law firms we have on the other sides of our deals, let alone expecting clients to understand them more!
    And frankly, I'm not even sure that the client needs to understand the intricacies of the legal problems we come across - indeed, sometimes it causes more delays and problems when people Google issues ....

  • Matt Faizey

    Dear God.

    The 'lack of understanding' is born from your professions complete and total lack of empathy with your clients.

    And the only party within the process that could wipe out gazundering for example is YOU. Just by stopping exchanging within 3 minutes of completion. But no, having no fixed timeframe allows many to do sod-all until the last minute and then rush it through.

    That your profession fails to have basic conversations with clients about their home move, their hopes and wants has led to this.

    All the while moaning about low fee's .......yet the service is such that broadly you don't deserve higher fees.

    Combine this with the 10,000 (fairly accurate ballpark) completions PER MONTH where customers don't get keys until late in the afternoon (and another. 20k way past contracted time) due to collective incompetence of your profession and you're firmly into the territory where the phrase 'glass houses and stone's comes to mind.

    Ally this again with the arrogance of choosing exchange-complete timescales without consulting customers, not too mention choosing completion dates and telling clients rather than asking what they do, or do not want, and once more we see a 'lack of understanding' claim can be met with withering contempt.

    Let's not forget how many of you only work a 3 or 4 day week now too. Resulting in poorer service and extended timescales. It wouldn't be so bad if you actually told your client. Maybe the reason many don't is that they don't want the client to understand this?

    Then, we have the wonderful situation where the clients lack of understanding means they are not aware that only a mere underling will be dealing with the sale/purchase and not the solicitor they think they're paying. Then, right at point of exchange the solicitor finally reviews and says 'not ready, 'x' isn't done'. And so completely cocking up an entire chains preparedness and expectations. Often only a mere 8 days in advance of a moving date families have set their hopes and plans on.

    Ooh, plus of course the idiots who don't pull mortgage funds down until the day, so delaying everyone.

    And those who despite knowing local searches are delayed to 8 weeks (time of year etc) still don't bother with them until well into the process so delaying all the others in the chain.

    On, and on.

    But no, I'm sure you're right. It's a lack of understanding.....

    (Of how despite the advent of all tech post Windows95 it's no more efficient, and due to which the process has become more a name and number on a file rather than a human process)

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    Unfortunately, it's conveyancers with the same attitude and mentality as Jonathan Williams that is the reason transactions are so slow and troublesome!
    With people like him around there is no hope!

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    Perhaps no sale no fee would crystallize the world of conveyancing rather than the blind-ability to try and lay blame elsewhere. If solicitor actually take phone calls from agents, keep their offices open over lunchtime, maybe even open on a Saturday morning! We are no longer in the comfy gentlemans club era of the 1970'S....THIS IS THE 21ST CENTURY. I mean, closing at 5pm? Welcome to the real world!

    How many times are exchanges halted because a solicitor in the chain is off playing golf on a friday afternoon....how many agents suffer from bad-mannered, short-tempered solicitors, who, if they deign to take a phone call from we lowly agents, answer questions with such indignity as to be unbelievable.

    The previous correspondent mentions search delays. He is quite right....we make a specific point of writing to lawyers stating that there are delays with the district council, but searches are NEVER submitted quickly. Timescales dictated by the client are specifically noted on sales memoranda, and are completely ignored in EVERY CASE. When was the last time a lawyer actually volunteered to ring an agent? Never.

    To say the house-buying process problems are because “anyone can set themselves up as an estate agent” is arrogant, petualant, and lies deeply in denial. Solicitors, work WITH us not against us; we are not you enemies, we are there to work on behalf of clients, as are you. Its called team-work!

    Until the legal profession get a grip on how the modern world works, and realise that there are people out there that want to help nothing will change. I suggest they look at their own house before throwing stones at our.

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    And another thing, this bloke says “people’s general lack of understanding of how the conveyancing system works.” Well I'm really sorry Jonathan Williams of Roythornes Solicitors, YOU are the solicitor, not us! Perhaps you need to sharpen up the practises of lawyers and stop relying on other professions to teach your clients....the clue is in the phrase "your clients". You educate them please.

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    Hmmm, the mud slinging does not help. Both sides are guilty of all of these offences at one time or another. The entire conveyancing process is back to front. The HIP had merit and was only kyboshed by mortgage providers refusing to accept a survey report that they had not organised.
    If houses went to market with an 'exchange ready pack' or something close to it then conveyances should be very fast. It is done in UK for auctions so why not for conventional sales?

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    Jonathan Williams of Roythornes Solicitors has just confirmed exactly where the problem sits with the house selling process and the comment about agents knowing about a defective title is mind blowing!

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    Isn't it just! For leasehold I ask to see a copy of the lease so I can answer basic questions. For an old house where I discover that title is not registered electronically I always advise the seller to have their conveyancer start to register it now, as we go to market rather than once a sale is agreed. From experience I tell them they will need to be firm with their conveyancer who will inevitably say 'No, don't worry, we'll do it in the conveyance else you will pay to do it twice'. I advise that an extra £500 now is well worth it but clients almost always ignore my advice ..... and almost always this bites us. The most recent case took over a year to get registered losing us 3 frustrated buyers along the way. Where I suspect defective title (eg some flats I often get) I warn all parties so the issue can be addressed at an early stage. Most solicitors still get paid by the hour so benefit from a drawn out conveyance. Most agents get paid only for getting a result so do our utmost to smooth and speed a conveyance.


    This is ridiculous. Why on earth would you suggest to a seller to get their conveyancer to register a property prior to an offer being accepted? The land registry can take up to 90 days for first registration. What would you do if a seller instructed their conveyancer to register their property and an offer was accepted 2 days later? This would mean the draft contract pack could not be issued as they would be waiting for the registration to be complete! Who would you blame then? The conveyancer most likely when this was the advise you gave to you client. I have never heard of a ridiculous request.

  • David Bennett

    Michael, the Home Condition Report was never implemented (even though hundreds trained, at great expense), because, as you say, the lenders would not accept them. So the HIP was born and bolted on was the EPC. HIPs were a great step forward in having documents ready, before marketing, but alas they were abused by estate agents buying them in for say £200 and selling them on to their clients for say £400. The client ended up paying twice! Both estate agents and Conveyancers need to explain to their clients, how the process works.

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    I am speaking as a seller (and) buyer of a property. There is nothing more frustrating than working with dinosaur old school solicitors. I like possibly most others going through the process of selling want a professional fast service that is fully transparent where I can see exactly where and who is holding up the process. Also, with the internet we no longer need a local solicitor, We could use one of the more modern slicker conveyencers who make the most of technology to complete faster. Its like everything else in this industry it is no longer the service providers who are in control it is the customer. We have way more ootions open to us now and before long those solicitors (and even some agents) who are stuck in the past will gradually become redundant. The forward thinking ones will use the new ways of doing things to their oqn and their customera advantage.

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    (David Bennett - I agree with you on HIPs.

    No - don’t assume you need to register unregistered deeds if you are selling the property, ask your conveyancer as it is typically a waste of time and money. True, there are some law firms who alarmingly charge more for the lawyer to deal with unregistered deeds, but they rarely take longer to read through. I find them easier and more helpful than registered in so many cases as the Land Registry summarise deeds far to briefly or fail to identify the benefiting neighbouring properties well enough, or can ever lose scanned in documents. AND registering deeds now takes months and months, as the Land Registry are not prioritising first registrations. That has been the case for well over a year.

    Obviously first time buyers have little understanding of conveyancing. Why would they. How would they know what happens next after agreeing a price for a property. The conveyancer takes the baton from the estate agent role, and is then responsible for informing the buyer - as we do: http://bit.ly/2E9BQjH

    NO conveyancer I have heard of gets paid by the hour. All fixed fees.)

    I am not convinced Jonathan Williams has been reported correctly. And the article seems to be disjointed in what it is trying to say. And a whole article on such brevity of actual quotes from Mr Williams?

    I was nodding until Mr Williams is reported as having said anyone can set themselves up as .....and then I thought I was going to read "conveyancer"....as any law firm can employ their cleaner and badge them as a conveyancer. Fact. There is no regulation on WHO can be a conveyancer within a law firm. That makes the legal process what it is today - not great, not great at all. I agree Matt Faizey’s “underling” paragraph - far too commonplace. As is receipt of mortgage funds on the day of completion (who does that !?)

    Sadly the conveyancing ‘improvements’ on the horizon are red herrings; talk of modernisation, fancy IT, digitalisation - no talk, no talk at all, about the elephant in the room - the quality of the person tasked with the conveyancing.

    But for Mr Williams to reported as missing out the conveyancer entirely? Obviously Mr Williams has a point, there are bad estate agents out there BUT JUST AS there are bad conveyancers, mortgage advisers, surveyors', removers, etc etc.

    Crikey I read some anger, actual anger in some of the replies. I am sure people want better standards for conveyancers, and for estate agents, I sincerely do for conveyancers as 60-70% of every sale/purchase is taken up with me chasing down the performance of my counterpart. Worse than ever.


    1. buyers and sellers almost always overlook agreeing a timescale when price is agreed. It is one of our first questions. They come to conveyancers without any idea what each other want, and it is invariably left for the conveyancers to try and broker that part of the deal. So we get clients agreeing dates far earlier and it is really helpful for a faster deal…as we have something to point to/embarrass a slow conveyancer with
    2. conveyancers carry incredible career ending personal, and 'law firm closing' risk in every ...single ….purchase and sale file they handle. That fact is rarely understood by anyone chasing a conveyancer.
    3. with fees as low as they are (which won’t change) conveyancers have no choice (even the best ones) none at all, but to look after 60-120 clients to make it viable to even offer a conveyancing service within a law firm - and all those clients are live, and any and all calling each and every day, and get piece of advice wrong, or miss an email and it really costs £000s in claims
    4. many many houses sell themselves
    5. estate agents have overheads that have to be paid for and working on a no sale no fee basis, whilst some sales are an easy commission, huge amounts off salaried time is wasted
    6. no house sale has a ‘contracted time’. 1pm/2pm is only relevant to interest, nothing more. Completion takes place on the day…not by a certain time in the day….only by custom is it between 10am-3pm depending on the length of the chain, how busy the banks, and lawyers are with other customers.
    7. conveyancers don’t choose a completion date, that is personal for the client, obviously. Exchange dates are rarely planned either. That date happens only when the chain is ready.
    8. part time working is the modern age. Don’t get left behind with bias against that. Team work and cover can ably cater for part time workers…..but mangers - in nay business with part time workers - better ensure it happens.
    9. too many estate agents want updates without offering anything back to the conveyancer in the legal process, so regrettably, they may face cold tones from the conveyancer they are calling (make it teamwork)
    10. some of us conveyancers systematically provide weekly updates to estate agents and are known (and criticised by competitor firms) for cc’ing agents into emails so agents are always kept informed
    11. sure, an estate agent and lawyer may be instructed at the same time to sell, and the agent never receives a call from the conveyancer to ask ‘so have you reported to my client about viewing, are you refreshing your right move photos etc’ BUT agents do not get paid until the conveyancer completes….so conveyancers need to realise Agents are calling not to be a pain, but to know when their weeks pop work will be paid.
    12. make all deals - no sale no fee?
    a.. the lawyer gets a salary, they won’t care
    b. so few deals abort anyway
    c. already offered by many of the volume outfits with the worst reputation among conveyancers
    13. work with the very best conveyancers (the better conveyancers will only work with the better estate agents) not the ones who pay the highest cash bung
    14. Friday afternoon - notice which conveyancer emails the estate agent with a pre-weekend update on deals they have on?
    15. Conveyancers have the most modern fast IT there is - email. But it is not used properly. Give a mediocre conveyancer the very best IT will mean....a mediocre conveyancer with the very best IT.

    I love my email, I love instant working, I love gadgets, I love Alex, Nest, anything made by Apple (pre 2014) but don't be fooled into thinking flashy IT and digitalisation:
    - will avoid conveyancers raising inane enquiries
    - will make a conveyancer analyse the legal papers/raise enquiries quicker than 2 weeks from receipt
    - will make a selling conveyancer ask for a mortgage repayment any quicker than the day of exchange
    - will make a conveyancer always ask for mortgage money by fax from the lender for a day before completion
    - will make a conveyancer spot a legal defect
    - will make the single solicitor supervising a conveyancing team walk any faster around the office to ‘prepare the file for exchange’
    - will make the conveyancer any better trained in conveyancing and property law

    I really do hope the right 'stakeholders', and the right people, are all going to make the really needed improvements within the property market for the benefit of the home moving public.


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