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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

Conveyancing IT crash exposes weaknesses in transaction process

EAT readers may have seen a piece in Friday’s property section of The Times about the long-running Simplify saga, which has seen some conveyancing work come to a near halt for several weeks.

The article inspired high profile former agent Ed Mead, co-founder of Viewber, to put pen to paper with outspoken views on how the industry is performing so badly at making transactions easier, safer and quicker.

Here’s Mead’s article: 

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The Simplify Group conveyancing debacle has finally reached the national press with a piece in The Times Bricks and Mortar section after a journalist was caught up in it. For anyone who hasn’t read this, many hundreds if not thousands of people buying and selling property in the UK have been locked out after a central IT platform was hacked. 

Glad this is being aired nationally - hopefully we can now see what’s happening and learn some lessons outside the closed industry loop. 

Reading it made me despair for several reasons.

The stressful process of buying and selling property is simply not being managed sensitively. At the moment if a property is marked ‘under offer’ the assumption is it’s sold, and the ensuing legal process is a foregone conclusion. 

With circa 35 per cent of deals falling through it’s clearly not sold, leading to heartbreak and monetary loss as people make offers and even buy ongoing properties before their own is legally sold. Agents don’t help by plastering misleading ‘Sold’ signs with almost invisible caveats everywhere – especially on their boards, when the property is merely under offer.

The entire business of referrals used to work because any estate agent with half a brain would usually recommend a local conveyancing solicitor with a good reputation – they want someone who can perform quickly and efficiently. Expectations in return were no more than a lunch at Christmas or a bottle of something warming. 

These days referrals are often only given where a significant payment is forthcoming and is particularly prevalent amongst lower priced chains who all but pressurise buyers and sellers into using their own conveyancers, chosen for how much income they’ll give away rather than their intrinsic level of expertise. This can lead to substandard service, with local knowledge lacking, and risks the IT issues the article articulates, with potentially devastating effects. 

This makes my blood boil at a time when government is specifically investigating referrals in the property industry. Reckless money first strategies make no sense against this backdrop and could lead to the vast majority of sensible referrals being banned – which will help nobody. If your agent refers you to someone, please check their reviews and do not, under any circumstances, make your decision based on price alone.

Communication is the key, yet a majority of complaints to The Property Ombudsman – where I sit on their Industry Forum – are about exactly that. It’s now worse than ever despite instant messaging and datarooms available for private treaty as they are for auctions. 

Agents must take some blame here as it’s part of their job to manage expectations. They are not selling FMCGs and could be better informed and prepared to give the correct messages to both buyer and seller. 

The expectation bosses have of their staff needs managing too, along with a deep knowledge of how this specific market works - seemingly lacking in some larger chains. Applying FMCG strategy to the property has repeatedly been shown not to work.

 

Why, despite all the tech available and lessons learned, is the process of buying or selling getting steadily worse? 

Buying a property is NOT about cheap service. The clue is that it now takes almost twice as long to get a sale from offer accepted to exchange as it did forty years ago. Property is expensive and needs commensurate servicing – this entire money grabbing mentality and consolidation of service businesses is apparently doing nothing to solve outstanding problems and is blinding Gov’t to the real issues.

By the way, agents must stop putting SOLD in huge letters on their boards with ‘subject to contract’ – or worse ‘sstc’ - in tiny letters underneath when all that’s happened is that an offer has been agreed. Revert to ‘Under Offer’ and the messaging is clear – it’s an easy starting point. 

The more members of the public are informed and ask questions, the better.

  • Rob Hailstone

    Well said Ed, but the rot set in a long time ago.

    Mid 80s, I was getting a lot of work from a local agent in Bristol. No referral fees paid, but pretty much a 24/7 service by me. He sold to a local businessman (think del Boy perhaps). He summoned me to the office and made it very clear that unless I paid for the work it would dry up. I declined his kind offer, and the work did indeed dry up. Except when it was for him, his family, his friends or was unusual or complicated.

    I suppose that one deciding factor for agent recommendation should be, would I recommend that conveyancer to my friends of family? If not, then is it fair to recommend them to a stranger?

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    What are FMCGs ? Agree with sentiments of article - and yes agents are getting ahead of themselevs looking at how much fees they can generate from one transaction, thinking they are smart - not looking at overall bigger picture - a poor experience for the client leads to no extra referral for business - if you put over the wrong solicitor that's how you get remembered.

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