To those working within the conveyancing sector, the recent statistics from the Legal Ombudsman regarding complaints are perhaps not surprising.
In our marketplace I don’t think we can shy away from the fact that 23% of all the complaints it received were about conveyancing, neither should we.
One of the reasons why we established the Conveyancing Association was to tackle some of the major stumbling blocks that come up during the conveyancing process and to move to a point where the introduction of, some simple common-sense measures, would do a great deal to cut down on the delays, communication issues, information gaps, etc, that often lead to client frustration and subsequent complaints.
All stakeholders within the conveyancing process – and let’s be honest there are a large number – have a role to play here and estate agents are not immune from this.
In fact, they have a central position and, by acting as the middle-man/woman between conveyancing firm and client(s), they can do a great deal to firstly, keep all parties informed, but also to manage expectations around when a completion might be possible.
Back in 2014 the Association published its Estate Agent Best Practice Guide which effectively focuses on the issue of communications and the way in which we can keep these channels open between both agent and conveyancer, and agent and client.
It’s a series of straightforward suggestions about how we might go about doing this, including the introduction of structured progress calls between conveyancer and agent, returned calls and emails, weekly updates on the progress of all transactions, predicted exchanges at the start of each month with progress updates as the month progresses, and some best practice guidance points that both sides can commit to.
This guidance plus the ongoing work we are conducting with agents, which includes online Progression Training about the conveyancing process, is really designed to get away from the old approach between agents and solicitors which could sometimes be rather contentious.
You would often hear tales of conveyancers completely ignoring the agent, not answering calls, with no commitment to keeping them in the loop. Certainly not appropriate in today’s world.
Members of the Association were keen to distance themselves from this type of relationship, recognising the role that agents can play with their clients in keeping their frustrations to a bare minimum. A regular and open-ended communication channel goes a long way to doing this – I think we all know that when it starts getting quiet on a case, the problems often begin.
The other important touch point for conveyancer and agent is around the chain itself and being able to pass information up and down that chain. This is especially helpful for longer chains where the bottom may get sorted very quickly, however the top doesn’t.
Again, it’s helping clients to understand that those at the top will need to go through the same process as they’ve been through, and therefore the likelihood of the process taking 10-12 weeks (perhaps a lot longer) is always there.
As an aside, getting away from the ‘on average cases take six to eight weeks to complete’ comments would be helpful – I think we all know (and most industry surveys confirm) that 10-12 weeks is much more likely.
Again, working together in a collaborative approach, which recognises that we are all working towards the same end goal of exchange in the quickest time possible, is absolutely vital.
Managing the client’s expectations and acting as that conduit between conveyancer and client can certainly help cut down on the number of complaints that develop from a process which can take time to piece together.
Certainly, the Association and its members are absolutely committed to working together with all stakeholders in order to deliver greater understanding of the conveyancing process through increased communication, and improving the overall customer knowledge and experience.
We know that a world without conveyancing complaints is nigh on impossible but together we can move towards a situation where they are far less prevalent.
*Eddie Goldsmith is Chairman of the Conveyancing Association