There was a recent article in Estate Agent Today titled: Agents 'missing out on income by not charging for referrals'.
A study of 166 agents showed that a culture of free referrals means that 62% do not receive a penny for referrals they make, while 18% have not tried to raise income this way – or if they had, they'd failed.
However, some of the comments posted by EAT readers indicated a reluctance to charge for referrals, because if the resulting service is poor that could backfire on the agent.
One poster said:
“Most of the smaller high street firms are fighting for survival. A small commission on the legals is more trouble than it's worth.”
One even went so far as to say:
“I am getting to the point where if a buyer says they want to use a (in my opinion) bad volume conveyancer then I'll advise the owner against accepting the offer. I am also getting to the point where if the owner says they want to use one of them "because they are cheaper" I'll drop my fee by the difference.”
These comments led to the question: What to look for in licensed conveyancers and solicitors?
I think before that can be answered you need to think about where/who the question might come from; client; estate agent; regulator (SRA); lender; employer?
All will have a number of priorities, maybe even the same ones, but probably in a differing order of importance. The list I have come up with, in the order I think most clients would prefer is:
• Knowledge and expertise
• Good communication skills
• Negotiation skills
• Lateral thinking/problem solving
• Speed/a sense of urgency
• Value for money
Assuming this list of attributes is close to being correct (please post or email me your thoughts; firstname.lastname@example.org), the other question is how would a potential client/work referrer be able to establish if a conveyancer possessed, all or some of them?
I would suggest, studying the websites and the profiles of the ‘Conveyancing Team’, then emailing the person you are interested in and ultimately speaking to them. When emailing them you could ask if they have any testimonials you could look at. By carrying out these procedures, you should get an overall picture of that particular person.
Two of my BLG members summed it up like this:
“A good conveyancer is someone who puts the client's interests first, offers appropriate due diligence and sound advice in a jargon free manner – unfortunately, our job does not always involve providing good news! Also, the client needs to be assured that the conveyancer will be there for them to hold their hand through the house buying minefield so availability and ease of communication is also vital in addition to providing appropriate problem solving techniques to encounter any given situation.”
“From the client's point of view, having found their dream home they just want to move in as quickly as possible. They do not want to be told there are problems or issues which will delay that move and have to be disclosed to the lender, and to that extent we are sometimes the enemy. I have some clients who take the opposite view and want every nook and cranny investigated, but sometimes the service we provide is not what the client wants, even if it is what the client needs. Of course this view is cynical, and no one wants to unwittingly buy a property with problems, nor does anyone want a negligence claim, but I am conscious that it can be difficult to do the job properly and meet the client's expectations sometimes.”
One of the conveyancer's roles is to look for problems, errors and mistakes and to make sure that their clients don’t encounter or inherit them, either whilst living at the property, or when it comes to selling it.
It is a bit like approaching a minefield that you are told is probably safe. You wouldn’t rely on someone else telling you that, you would make damn sure it was safe yourself!
*Rob Hailstone is founder of the Bold Legal Group