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Improving the homebuying process – how can we deliver this ourselves?

You will notice that there is a new author for this regular column for Estate Agent Today. Last month I was fortunate, and very honoured, to be elected as the new non-executive chair of the Conveyancing Association (CA), taking the reins from the one and only Eddie Goldsmith who has retired from his post. 

Eddie will, I’m glad to say, be continuing to work with the CA as a special advisor. Might I say that his recent lifetime achievement award is absolutely deserved. 

This, it goes without saying, is an incredibly important time for the housing market, specifically those who take part in the purchase process and it perhaps makes sense that as this sector changes, so do we as a trade body. 

To that end, and neatly coinciding with my appointment, the CA has undertaken a number of corporate governance changes which are designed to ensure it works at its peak and is in the best possible position to influence key policy and decision-makers.

I don’t think there can be any doubt that there is a political will to change the home-buying process and, while we might have had to wait a while to see the whites of the ‘Call for Evidence’s’ eyes, it is now out there, has been responded to, and we can expect some chunky and far-reaching proposals to be emerging over the coming months.

At the moment, many of those potential improvements are going to require a lot of industry collaboration and co-operation before they can successfully be implemented.  

The broad shape of the overall agenda is becoming ever more apparent and there is clearly an appetite to deliver greater transparency, greater fairness and fewer aborted transactions. 

It is surely sensible for the industry to see what it can itself do to deliver these objectives before we get some not-so-gentle nudging from the authorities in terms of mandatory measures. 

The purchase market, of course, is very interesting in that it has so many different specialities working, if not, alongside each other, then certainly in a co-dependent relationship. Whether we like it or not, the ability to get to a successful conclusion does require a level of co-operation amongst all those players; so we should have some experience of how to work together for positive change and certainly lots of lessons to recall from when we ended up in dysfunctional bickering. Let’s get the relationships right at this especially significant time.

I have plenty of experience working in such complex markets – one of my previous roles was as director general of the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) where the relationship between financial markets, lenders, advisers and clients, and then all the other links in the property chain, gave a stakeholder map which was at times impenetrable. 

But we did better when we worked together, communicated with each other and tried to understand each other’s perspectives. That experience is my going-in position at the CA.

Clearly, estate agents and conveyancers have worked closely since time immemorial but I would expect the Call for Evidence’s focus on a greater agency ‘professionalisation’, coupled with its move towards further regulation might well focus minds on how to take the relationship forward. 

Letting and managing agents will now be regulated of course and, from what I gather, many agents are in favour of mandatory qualifications, if not full regulation. If there is a clear industry blueprint for what should occur, then the chances of its being adopted – in whole or in part – by the authorities improve. 

For our part, at the CA this acceptance of what strategic and far-reaching change might be coming over the horizon has led to some significant internal changes: – instead of our management committee we have now formulated the policy and strategy board, made up of myself, the executive team and 13 leading practitioners who will feed into (unsurprisingly) the CA’s strategy and policy. It’s our intention that this will provide far greater focus and direction, and allows us to work much closer with all stakeholders, including agents of course.

The positive in all of this is that the future is not set in stone – we fully intend to help shape the process and the market so that it works not just for CA members but all those involved. I might also say that this has been a long time coming and therefore it’s important that all of us get it right.

*Paul Smee is non-executive chair of the Conveyancing Association (CA)

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