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By Daniel Hamilton-Charlton

Director, Property Searches Direct

OTHER FEATURES

Is the property industry at a crossroads?

The property market became somewhat fractious during 2020. After receiving a much-needed boost with the promise of stamp duty relief, things got really busy. 

Unfortunately, the timing was not ideal given that the country was in periodic lockdown and a vast percentage of the required workforce was furloughed.

From a supplier’s perspective, we saw the industry turn on itself. Rather than seeing stakeholders pulling together, the market became fractured, disparate, and full of blame.

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We were not completely surprised, the relationship between conveyancers and estate agents tends to be harmonious when things are going well, but when it gets tough all problems belong to someone else and fingers get pointed.

If I could be the parent in the situation, I would have banged many heads together and asked what was to be gained. However, in reality, everyone has been too busy to really care about the cause, or how issues can be avoided in the future, as results have been demanded regardless of the difficulties being experienced.

So unfortunately, very little has been learnt about how things could be improved, we have all simply been too busy to spare the time. But that has to change.

There is massive demand for property, and at the right price there always has been. But this last year has been different. Many families reviewed their living space to not only accommodate home life, but also their work requirements. Remote or home working is more commonplace than ever in the UK and as a result, many now need more living space to cope with their changing needs.

Back in the mid 2000s, I worked closely with the legal market and experienced just how much that industry had been challenged. Property crashes forced conveyancers to either re-train or leave the industry.

Since that time, many firms with a stripped-down workforce were all working to keep up with ever growing demands. Given just how challenging recruitment of conveyancers had become, firms were not looking to the future, or how they needed to adapt to keep up with the changing demands of the market.

As a result, panel managers became a useful resource as work could be diverted to them and thus volumes regulated. This led to case management providers helping to drive greater efficiencies and then search providers to help with business development solutions.

As a result, the conveyancer of the early 2000s does not look the same as they do now, in so many ways.  

Can the same be said of the estate agent, though?

Estate agents have been busy doing their jobs. Leafleting, counting boards, phone-outs, sales progression, viewings, negotiations, punching the air, complaining about slow conveyancers and spiraling cost of the portals, but ultimately just getting the job done. 

No problem, right? No, not really.

In the same way that conveyancing was forced to change to keep up with the demands of the market, estate agents have the same challenges ahead.

The current system is not fit for purpose, and I don’t just mean conveyancing. There has been far too much left to the conveyancer to fix or address, which is simply no longer feasible.

The UK property market must become a collaborative machine. The current disparate parts need to understand what can and should be done sooner to speed up the entire process.  

Estate agency in its current format needs to change. There is too much focus on winning an instruction because getting a SSTC board up has been the reason to celebrate.

When the seller gets disillusioned and stressed, it is all the conveyancer’s fault, because the estate agent did their job, didn’t they? Only partly, in my view.

If the industry wants to see less stress, happier clients and less wastage, winning an instruction has to be more than getting a signed agency agreement, erecting a board, phoning round, doing viewings and getting offers.

Get legally prepared’ has been a phrase used by some for years and yet it has not really taken off because estate agents, like us all,  are creatures of habit.

However, things are changing. There is a growing demand for more upfront data. The weeks that a client is waiting for a sale to be agreed can be used productively to speed up the sale when it is agreed, these weeks are invariably wasted.

The Conveyancing Association has repeatedly confirmed that searches are not being ordered until some six weeks into the transaction (on average), invariably due to delays in being formally instructed or not receiving a contract from the vendor’s solicitor. All because the transactions have got to the conveyancers at the last minute, which is already too late.

When a property goes on to the market, the agent should have already explained the process and benefits of getting legally prepared to the vendors.

Legal protocol forms should be completed (freely available to download) to confirm what is to be conveyed. 

Documents such as FENSA certificates, electrical certificates, boiler service history, planning records found and stored securely in a digital property logbook or passport.

An enhanced ID/AML report with consideration of International Sanctions and PEP’s should be commissioned ready to be shared with the estate agent, conveyancer, mortgage broker and others that may require it as this exercise is often duplicated four or five times during the moving process.

Searches should be ordered given that the reports are property specific and not client specific. This way, more answers are available to mortgage valuers at the point of survey, resulting in fewer enquiries being raised by buyers’ conveyancers post-receipt of mortgage offer. (Costs can be fully refunded when agreed as part of the sale)

A conveyancer should be instructed as soon after the property goes to the market as possible

If getting legally prepared is taken seriously, six weeks or more can be saved from the transaction time, sales pipelines can be turned more often and clients will be far less worried given that they have been so much more involved in the process from day one.

Fortunately, the power remains in the hands of the estate agent.

It is clear that 2021 can go one of two ways. It could remain a fractious, angry environment with continued clashes between conveyancer and agent, or it could be the start of something far more progressive, collaborative and empowering. It's down to you.

*Daniel Hamilton-Charlton is Director of Property Searches Direct Ltd

  • Matthew Payne

    There are some very simple things that can be done to reduce transaction times, however, there is a massive education piece needed here on one side of the equation, and overcoming vested interests in a slow process on the other, before we start to see any industry wide progress.

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