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Conveyancing delays are not the only reason transactions fall through

In this business you get used to dealing with regular customer and third-party feedback, input, and (occasionally) complaints. 

Much like the agency market I suspect, conveyancers are sometimes demonised and accused of being responsible for every single delay, problem, or obstacle that might arise during a transaction. 

This tends to come with the territory and we should all have our eyes wide open for this ‘perk’ of the job.

When it comes to negative feedback or complaints, while I wouldn’t go so far as to ‘welcome’ them I believe you have to be open to them. 

Indeed, without this type of customer interaction your firm may be oblivious to a particular problem – just because you’ve always done a task a certain way, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. 

I have lost count of the number of times we’ve made process changes or tweaked our service following feedback. 

In a very true way, complaints can help you deliver significant improvements.

You’ll sense, however, that there is a ‘But’ coming here. And you’d be right. But (there it is) on the other hand I am not enamoured of criticism or complaints which have no basis in fact or come without sufficient evidence to back them up. 

This reminds me of those TV talent shows where the ‘nasty judge’ effectively tells the contestant: “You’re rubbish, get off the stage.” 

No-one learns anything from this and it just breeds resentment and anger with no opportunity for learning or growth.

Reading recent ‘research’ from LV= Legal Services on the number of transactions it believes to have collapsed last year, and the reasons why this might be the case, the fault it would seem for all of those cases not making it to completion can be well and truly laid at the door of the conveyancing market. 

In effect, it’s all our fault and every single reason why cases collapse is down to ‘poor conveyancing services’. 

By this they seem to mean that delays – purely caused by conveyancing firms you understand – are the key component for a failed transaction. 

In essence, conveyancers take too long – LV= even put a number on it; 96,000 sales collapsed in 2015 as a result of poor conveyancing services. 

Where it actually gets these numbers from is a moot point but the target is clear and (one presumes) all customers, advisers, lenders should stop using their existing conveyancing firms and move to LV= immediately.

Now I’m long in the tooth to know that this type of ‘X transactions collapse because of conveyancers’ has been designed to generate media headlines, and lo and behold, look I’m writing about it here. 

But, for a start, I’m not sure that berating the entire conveyancing sector is the right way to go about it.

Take for instance, those statistics again. In the story I read covering this press release, it goes on to say that of those 96,000 collapsed sales, 21% were because buyers were gazumped and 15% were because the vendors pulled out at the last minute. 

Now, let’s take that in; how are conveyancers to blame for a client accepting an offer higher than the original? 

Also, how are conveyancers to blame if the vendor pulls out of the transaction? 

They are unquestionably beyond the control of the conveyancer and even the most hard-nosed critic of conveyancing firms might accept that these types of occurrences are not the sole fault of the conveyancer. 

In many cases, it’s very easy to blame the conveyancer for a transaction failing to complete. 

‘They took too long’, is an easy excuse without seeking to understand the reasons why a case might have been delayed. 

As one of our member firms stated recently at our Management Committee Meeting, no quality conveyancing firm in their right mind wants to sit on a case longer than absolutely necessary. 

We want cases completed as quickly as possible and therefore you have to understand just what is causing the delay. 

Is it a problem closer to home? Are we waiting for information? Let’s look a little deeper behind these issues and hopefully uncover accurate reasons why there are delays, and develop solutions for them.

So, while I’m not saying that conveyancers are completely blameless in certain cases, I am saying that they cannot be blamed all of the time. 

Bashing firms for the sake of it – or even to promote your own proposition – may be part of the marketing game but it does not do the reputation of the industry any good, especially when those accusations are clearly false. 

I would be the first to accept culpability when it is deserved, however by the same token we have to stand up for our sector when those playing the blame card are so clearly in the wrong.

*Eddie Goldsmith is Chairman of the Conveyancing Association

  • Matt Faizey

    An you're not helped by Estate Agents staff on the day of sale assuring clients 'it will be 4-6 weeks' when in reality it will likely be double that.

    But then conveyancers will rarely readjust the clients expectations honestly for fear of upset.

    Moreover, EA's putting 'anticipated completion date' on the memorandum of sale is beyond idiotic. A total work of fiction. May as well have 'likely date of alien invasion'.

    All in all, if clients are being presented to conveyancers with massively unrealistic expectations of how fast things will happen is it any wonder that the complaints pertain to slow service?

  • Jane Finch

    Eddie I accept that you and other conveyancers are upset about being blamed for a slow service and failed completions. I must admit to raising my eyebrows when I read LV's article, so am not at all surprised you have responded. But I do certainly think Matt has a good point.

    Allowing the client to anticipate the completion date at the very start AND put it in writing definitely does not help the matter. I have brought this point up several times at conveyancing meetings, and everytime a conveyancer says it allows the client to plan, or so "we" know when the client is expecting to move. Well that's all well and good but unrealistic planning isn't going to help anyone.

    Perhaps you should create a targeted campaign on EAT during the week, when most estate agents read the articles, about the true length of time it takes from finding a buyer and starting the conveyancing process to completion. Beth Rudolf told me the average time is 12 weeks with some taking between 16 - 20 weeks if there are problems.

    Well if 12 weeks is the average length of time from start to completion, regardless of whether estate agents and consumers think that is slow, why not promote that out. Yes it can be done quicker, but realistically most of the time it doesn't. And I'm sure that isn't from a lack of trying or chasing for signed documents!

    But estate agents need to know, in no uncertain terms, not to get their client's hopes up with unrealistic and "false" expectations by promising 4 - 6 weeks until completion, when most of the time that time frame is a complete lie.

    Then perhaps conveyancers wouldn't get blamed so much for slow completions if the client had realistic expectations in the first place.

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    1. It think it is superb when Agents have seller and buyer agree a timescale. We now aim for a 4 week exchange unless client instructs otherwise. I say all this, as it is perfectly possible to achieve. It is when no timescale is stated, that the stress later on comes.
    2. Good grief, how many complaints are you getting. 1 a year and we feel bad. Don't get any!
    3. Conveyancers are to blame for many abortive deals as so many are too slow at the legal work , leading to coldfeet. Conveyancing standards are the worse I have ever witnessed. 4-6 weeks max to get an exchange. We spend 30-40% of our time on a purchase just chasing slow selling lawyers. Madness, as we already have the more involved role as a buyer anyway.

    The majority of selling lawyers take 2 weeks to send us legal papers. Then 2-3 weeks just to reply to enquiries. Ludicrous.

    Remove volume conveyancers from the industry and I feel standards and timescales will improve. Too many volume outfits do not employ conveyancers with law degrees do they - madness - so anything complicated and they bury their heads and hope it goes away...taking weeks in the process away from clients who need to move.

    But it won't change...though the public are getting wise to remanding a conveyancer with a qualification. After all, so much law is used, why employ an amateur, when you can have a professional for the same price.

  • Jane Finch

    Tim, " aiming" for, and "gaining" 4 weeks until exchange are 2 totally different things.

    You have just said yourself "The majority of selling lawyers take 2 weeks to send us legal papers. Then 2-3 weeks just to reply to enquiries. Ludicrous." Well that is 5 weeks in total. I think you need to be more realistic with your clients. Especially as the average across the UK is 12 weeks in total until completion, with over 60% of exchange and completions having less than 2 weeks between the two. So that would make it 10 or 11 weeks on average until exchange. That's a big difference to your predicted and "aimed" for 4 weeks.

  • Karen James

    Speaking as a 'volume conveyancer' (and I use that expression in its strictest sense and not as a derogatory term) we, like many of our peers offer our clients a 'no completion, no fee' service. In other words, we underwrite our own fees on failed transactions. We therefore have a vested interest and a massive incentive to get matters completed in the timescale a client desires, and at a speed which the slowest party in a chain allows.

    Most delays are caused by circumstances beyond our control. However, we do waste a lot of time chasing other solicitors for information or progress and explaining to clients and estate agents what is outstanding and why the information is necessary.

    Where it is a conveyancer in the chain causing a delay, we frequently discover it is either a sole practitioner or a small 2 to 3 partner firm where the fee earner is 'out for lunch' or 'at court' or 'off sick'. These firms simply do not have the resources available to deal with absences. They do not have the capital to invest in modern IT systems or in the development of support staff and consequently everything takes just that little bit longer.

    They complain about emails, personal searches, direct dial telephone numbers, on-line banking and most will not have heard of gateways, client portals or inter-active services. Some still close for lunch! This does not make them bad lawyers. Unlike Mr Higham I have no desire to criticise a fellow conveyancer just because of the size of their business. I may, however, criticise them for the way in which they deliver their service. In my experience, however, it is rarely a 'volume conveyancer' who causes delays.

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    Jane - like I say, we aim for 4 weeks, 12 weeks is unacceptable. We are well known for chasing down prompt deals. We impress clients and Agents.

    Karen - i don't know any conveyancer who doesn't have 4 volume outfits in their top 5 list of slow conveyancers.

    'No completion no fee' means 'we don't plough much effort in so we don't have much to write off', instead 'we shall bury our heads and hope the other lawyer finds an answer to their own enquiries'.

    'Gateways, client portals or inter-active services' is another way of saying 'we don't have a single lawyer with a law degree, but we hope to the heavens the latest IT will distract the public from realising that fact, as we know slick IT does not spot a legal defect in the paperwork, nor does it make the other lawyer any faster, but the public might think we are somehow good'

    My point to conveyancers? Just be genuinely very good at conveyancing. Forget distracting bells and whistles. Or step aside and let the public receive great service and quality from the conveyancers out there, who actually are very good.

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    p.s We are looking for additional conveyancers in each of our offices if anyone wishes to submit a CV. You'll be impressed.

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    We manage the Homebuyer Conveyancing panel and we introduce Homebuyers and Investors to panel members. We were inundated by Buy to let Investors wanting a quick conveyance so that they could beat the Stamp Duty Increase. They got what they wanted. Some even called with just 2 weeks to go.

    So when Homebuyers and Investors are ready the conveyance can get on track to complete fast

    Delays - Cause

    The return of the client care info is where the first hurdle is and then ensuring that everyone is working to the same timescales is the 2nd.

    We have solved the 2nd issue and maybe we should all revisit why the Client sees the completing of paperwork to engage the Solicitor as a major hurdle.

    Oh and the 3rd issue is that all key parties that are asking for updates to Solicitors are slowing the conveyance down. The email that applies the most pressure or call somehow is escalated.

    The 3rd issue is fairly simple to solve and we are giving this a go.

    Conveyancing is a volume profession where fees have been driven down. Our experience with some of the panel members is to ask them to slow down on the Volume and increase their fees. Focus on Customer service at a fair price. We all know what a cheap fee brings.

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