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Conveyancing: Market problems relate to flawed system, not staff

The publication of our Strategic Plan, ‘Building the framework for the future’, met with an anticipated degree of positive and not-so-positive comment. 

If you were to look at some of the comments on the story that appeared on this very website, you will see a number that can be classed under both categories. 

The antipathy that often exists between some agents and some conveyancers clearly continues, and I often get the impression that any of our suggestions or attempts at reform or improvement, would be met by some with a response along the lines of: “There’s no need for this; all conveyancers have to do is get off their backsides and pick up the phone.” 

While not wishing to get too defensive over such a general viewpoint, if it was just a question of shoving a rocket under the collective backsides of conveyancers, we would say so.

Unfortunately, as much as some agents might believe it’s simply a question of pulling fingers out of collective ears, it’s rather more complicated than that. Where I might agree somewhat with this response is around the quality of individual conveyancers within firms and the need to ensure they have the knowledge, expertise and skills to perform their roles to the highest levels possible. 

Since our inception we’ve espoused the need for quality staff training and development, which is why we set up the Conveyancing Academy to deliver just that, and I fully agree that all conveyancing firms should be focused on having staff working at the top of their game. Many of our member firms have made use of the Academy and the courses it runs, and they certainly feel it provides a significant advantage for their businesses.

However, even with the finest conveyancing staff available, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that, with a flawed process, problems and delays are always going to occur. Those who believe it’s just a staff quality or a staff motivation problem are, quite frankly, wrong because there are issues with the conveyancing process encountered by every single firm right across the UK, regardless of the staff.

And this is what the Strategic Plan sets out to solve – it outlines eight key work streams which we believe require change, improvement and development, in order to meet three core aims. 

Those are: providing swifter certainty, greater protection against fraud, and far better communication between all parties. Now, these might seem general aims but set against the work streams themselves and the specific changes we want to bring about, they can all be improved which will ultimately cut down on cost and delay, and make a much more positive home-buying experience for all, even (dare I say it) agents.

Again, on this very site, there is talk about better upfront provision of information before a home is marketed – some will disagree that this can make a difference but having conversed with many stakeholders we believe a comprehensive collection of information collated at the start will highlight issues far sooner, which will allow problems to be solved sooner and ultimately lead to a far quicker process through to exchange. 

Similarly, another point raised here about the fact all parties can walk away at any point, leading to many aborted transactions and much frustration and loss of money, could potentially be addressed by introducing a reservation agreement like we have in the new-build market. 

Setting a period by which exchange must take place or there will be a financial penalty could deliver greater certainty to all those involved, rather than be faced with the constant worry of a transaction potentially falling-through right up to the point of exchange.

So, while we would acknowledge that having quality, motivated staff who fully understand the issues and can make decisions is absolutely vital in the conveyancing market, we also recognise the need for change throughout the process. 

We are of course open to all further ideas about how we meet our aims – we will continue to seek constructive feedback and ideas, and will feed in the ones we’ve already had from agents into our ongoing work streams. 

Regardless of certain opinions of conveyancers our motivation is to get a better home-moving process for all, and we’re not going to stop until we get there. 

*Eddie Goldsmith is Chairman of the Conveyancing Association and Partner in Goldsmith Williams

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    Conveyancers should only be paid on completion and then they would have a vested interest in ensuring that sales proceed quickly and efficiently. They are currently behaving like 'divorce lawyers' who keep spinning-out the whole process for as long as possible to boost fees.

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