“Are we there yet?”
In the same way that these words can drive you to distraction (any parent who has endured the nagging of children during a car journey can attest to this), it’s no surprise the similar refrain of “are we ready to exchange yet?” can strike a similar chord with lawyers when agents ask them.
To be fair, this blunt approach appears more common amongst agents working with panel lawyers where the relationship tends to have a ‘12 Years a Slave’ feel about it.
That said, any law firm desperate enough to take the panel managers’ shilling doesn’t deserve a great deal of sympathy.
For most of the agents we work with, the more usual question is “what we can do to help?”. This is backed up by feedback on the webinars we run with Rightmove, where agents get genuine value by learning what goes on behind the scenes with conveyancing.
Unless you’ve been living in glorious denial for the last few years, you’ll know deals are more difficult and taking longer to go through. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) claims 16 weeks average transaction time and the government is quoting fall-through rates of 35%.
Despite the government’s promises with fanciful anti-gazumping ideas and a few Proptech gurus awaiting the white knight of technology that will save us, these figures don’t look like changing any time soon.
The good news is that you can influence whether deals go through by keeping an eye on where you can have an impact:
1. Get the deal cracking
Nothing will happen until the seller’s lawyer has been instructed, so make sure your client knows how important it is that they don’t hang around. Check with their lawyer to make sure they have sent the paperwork out and then chase your clients to ensure they return ALL the paperwork, certified copies of identification documents, and have money put on account.
If your client is not co-operating, your deal is going nowhere.
2. Send that contract pack, packing
A buyer’s lawyer will not do anything until they have received the contract pack from the seller because he needs to rely on this information. Therefore, by making sure the seller’s lawyer has sent out a contract (copies of the title, contract, lease, management company information pack) then you improve the odds of getting the deal moving.
Oh, and always check when a lawyer says they’ve sent out the pack, that the buyer has actually received it - as we’ll see later, blind optimism can be misleading.
3. Sort out the mess that is the enquiries process
If you want to understand why it is so difficult to buy a property, look no further than the utterly shambolic methods by which lawyers track enquiries. Actually, calling it shambolic is flattering – the process is a mess. Duplicate enquiries, incorrect or non-existing numbering, mistakes – this is where the real inefficiencies and incompetence takes place.
Get involved – ask to see the enquiries on a regular basis and make sure that everyone knows what’s going on. Keep a close track on who thinks what is outstanding – you can often remove roadblocks in this area.
While there are sometimes challenges about the time it takes to get local searches back in some parts of the country, don’t be fooled into being side-tracked by these. Where searches are delayed, the buyer’s lawyer can still raise enquiries whilst waiting for these to come back, and raising more when the search is back – always worth suggesting this.
4. Is everyone really ready for exchange?
You would have thought once the enquiries, searches, mortgage reports and title investigations are complete, there was little room for delays and mistakes. In reality, there’s plenty more opportunities for things to go wrong, but this is an area where a good agent can make the difference between success and failure.
When lawyers tell you that they are ‘ready’ it is important to understand what this actually means, because, as mentioned earlier, this is where blind optimism can take over from harsh reality, especially with inexperienced lawyers, of which there are many.
Before anyone is exchanging, at a minimum, both lawyers must have signed contract AND a transfer. It is depressingly common to have only one of these critical documents signed, but you are in a very strong position to check directly with your client and buyer that they have actually done this. If you thought Walt Disney was good at story-telling, he had nothing on buyers and sellers who tell you that they have everything in place – probably worth checking twice on this matter.
Let’s not forget the other thing – that pesky mortgage offer and deposit that actually needs to be transferred to the lawyer. Without these, no-one is buying anything. Once more, make sure your clients know they have to do this, because at this crazy pre-exchange fever time, this is exactly the sort of thing that gets missed.
Finally, just a point about completion dates - get them nailed down. In our Rightmove webinar surveys, agents consistently misunderstand the role they play in setting completion dates - you have access to the entire chain and have more influence on this than the lawyers – use it.
In general, the key to getting a deal through, is staying close to the action – if you think you don’t have control over timescales, then think again. By ensuring your clients select lawyers you know and trust, that are completely transparent, the difference in success rates can be remarkable.
We know most law firms don’t publish their completion rates like we do, but it’s always worth asking them for their rates to help promote them to clients.
Who knows, you may never have to ask “are we there yet?” ever again.
*Peter Ambrose is Managing Director at The Partnership, which specialises in fast and efficient transactions enabling customers to complete with confidence.