It’s almost impossible to write about the conveyancing market and not reflect on the activity levels of the past month or so and how we have all – agents, advisers, lenders, conveyancers and clients – got through it and come out the other side.
Talking from our own experience, and that of Conveyancing Association (CA) member firms, there’s no doubting that March was incredibly busy and stressful as we sought to complete on those purchases who wanted to get past the finishing line before the new stamp duty rules kicked in.
I’ve heard March’s workload described by some CA firms as a ‘nightmare’, and while I’m not expecting the sympathy of the estate agent community on this one, I am 100% certain that everything was done by firms in order to achieve the aims of the client.
As has been pointed out, this deadline was not only placed incredibly close to Easter – already a traditionally busy time for the market – but it was also within spitting distance of the end of the tax year.
In essence, it was always destined to be busy but one suspects that many did not quite grasp just how incredibly busy it would be.
Perhaps there is a lesson to be had here about the communication methods we use and how we instil realistic expectations in those who may come to the purchase table with thoughts of ultra-quick completions.
While last month was something of a special case, due to the stamp duty deadline, conveyancers were expected to make completions for clients who had only started their property-purchasing journeys in March – with mortgages.
Now, while I’m not suggesting this is impossible – indeed some firms did manage to make completion – everything has to be in place to make this a reality.
Add in the common complications that are involved in most transactions and that deadline-busting completion moves further and further away.
While agents will undoubtedly be dealing with fall-out from some clients whose purchases were not able to complete, I would hope that the vast majority got to where they wanted to be, and that their experience was not too stress-ridden.
Certainly, wherever possible, CA firms were attempting to do everything in their power to complete those purchases with holidays being cancelled and longer hours being worked by staff.
That said, there will still be those who were left disappointed and, moving forward, we as an industry need to get better at helping clients understand what is and isn’t achievable.
In this particular case we were dealing with a Government-set deadline, however every single purchaser will come with their own self-generated deadline and I think it’s important that at the very outset we have a conversation about this.
For a start, what are the client’s expectations in that regard? Because without knowing them we are all destined to disappoint.
If we, at least, put that date on the table we’ll be able to provide information about why this is unlikely to be achievable, or if (given the process) we have a good chance of making this happen.
This upfront, initial communication between all parties can only be helpful as we start the conveyancing process, as well as regular provision of ongoing information back and forth during it.
Communication voids tend to be the most frustrating part of any conveyancing work and, we at the CA, have set our members some key performance indicators to meet in order to make sure we keep this type of information gap to a minimum.
This means information for all parties, but especially the agent, about how the case is progressing and where perhaps there is missing information or actions that still require completion.
Now that March is over, I’m sure there are some lessons that all stakeholders can learn - perhaps most notably the Government about introducing such arbitrary deadlines – but also how we all interact with the client, manage their expectations and inform each other about the progress of the case.
These small communication steps should hopefully make the process a lot less painful for all concerned.
*Eddie Goldsmith is Chairman of the Conveyancing Association