The recent stamp duty holiday and the subsequent conveyancing logjam this triggered has acted as a wakeup call for the industry. This is even more the case after a significant number of transactions missed the 30th June deadline due to conveyancing delays. In some instances, buyers backed out and agents were left to pick up the pieces with dissatisfied sellers.
The time it takes to complete a transaction is a perennial problem that all agents encounter. In fact, a survey back in April found that 74 % of estate agents cited the lack of speed during a transaction as the biggest challenge facing the industry.
Now, as we approach the end of the stamp duty giveaway, top of most people’s wish list is making end-to-end e-conveyancing a reality. While conveyancing firms have made great strides in automating much of their processes, true e-conveyancing that can complete a transaction in weeks rather than months is still a way off and requires specific government support.
In the meantime, the best way to speed up transactions is for estate agents and conveyancers to reassess their workflows to see what can be optimised. Here’s my advice on four areas all agents should focus on, based on my personal experience of running a conveyancing firm.
Ensure Proper Onboarding of Sellers
When first listing the property, estate agents need to get full details of the seller and the home. This will include the necessary identity and anti-money laundering (AML) checks. All other relevant property information, fittings and contents forms and, where applicable, leasehold information forms. It is also advisable to have any supporting documentation ready for example, planning permission and building regulations consents for any works that have been undertaken.
Making sure you have this documentation at the start of the process will speed along the conveyancing process once a buyer is found. Some agents have found that getting all the information right the first time can cut down an entire month’s worth of time from the selling process.
The industry has already taken the initiative here, with the launch of the Buying and Selling Property Information (BASPI), by the trade body the Home Buying and Selling Group (HBSG).
BASPI acts as a standardised dataset that estate agent CRM software providers can use to build all the required questions and data inputs into their platforms. The intention is to use this dataset to create a ‘single source of truth’ that can be shared with all relevant stakeholders. Ask your CRM provider if and when they’re planning on integrating the BASPI dataset into their platform, if they haven’t already announced this.
Pay Close Attention to Leasehold Properties
Leasehold property transactions are often more time consuming than freehold transactions. The legalities become more complex and the documentation and due diligence required by the conveyancer can increase substantially. What’s more, managing agents and freeholders can be slow to provide this information.
It’s therefore little surprise that the majority of conveyancing complaints made to the Legal Ombudsman relate to leasehold property transactions.
Agents have an important role to play in managing expectations with leasehold sellers. Sellers should be made aware at the very beginning of the process that leasehold transactions can be time consuming and informed what they can do to help expedite the process.
Specifically, sellers should be made aware of the pros and cons of requesting the leasehold management information pack from the managing agent or freeholder before a buyer is found. While many sellers are reluctant to spend money on this before an offer is accepted, it could slow down the transaction process by up to eight weeks if only requested once an offer is accepted. Making your client aware of this will help them make an informed decision.
Recent statistics from the Legal Ombudsman showed that residential conveyancing made up 28% of all official complaints, by far the most of any single complaint category. Of those who sent in complaints on conveyancing, nearly a quarter said that poor communications was the major issue.
For estate agents, they’re often stuck in the middle, between a frustrated client wanting an update, and a conveyancer not providing timely enough information to enable the agent to manage expectations with the client.
As there can often be delays with lack of contact from other conveyancing firms in the chain, it’s important to understand the customer service available from your conveyancer and ensure that there is a point of contact available throughout the process.
What’s more, there needs to be multiple ways of contacting conveyancers throughout the process. Emails, live chat, video calls and Slack are all options to consider. However, the need for regular contact reduces when realtime updates are provided.
With that said, some conveyancing firms have come up with apps and software solutions that give real-time updates and have the bandwidth for 24/7 support. Estate agents should always inquire about the possibility of getting these tools from conveyancers so that they can establish an open line of communication with clients.
Find an Effective Conveyancer Partnership
Estate agents often complain that conveyancers ignore them or don’t provide updates. This is never a good working relationship and makes the estate agent's job of managing your client’s expectations even more difficult.
This is where an effective partnership with a trusted conveyancing firm can really make a difference, by knowing that all the transactions you refer to them will be dealt with to a service level that works for you.
When looking for a firm to partner with, the two most important aspects to consider are technology and communication. Firstly, in terms of technology, check how much of the process is automated, the self-serve options available to clients, whether e-signatures and remote verification are supported, and if there’s a case management dashboard that agents can access.
With regards to communication, ask how they typically manage communications with estate agents, how much of this is automated, and what the turnaround time is for specific queries and who will manage responding to these.
And remember, it’s a two way street, so ask what they expect from you when first listing a property and throughout the sales process, as well as what specific workflows they’ve built to optimize how they work with estate agents.
For estate agents, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re on the same side as conveyancers. It’s in the interest of both parties to complete the purchase as soon as possible, to reduce costs, get paid, and deliver a positive client experience. Improving relationships and workflows are the best way to achieve this.
*Hayley Hellon is Head of Legal Practice at ProConveyancing, an online residential conveyancing firm operating in England and Wales that offers high-quality, fast and sensibly priced conveyancing to buyers and sellers and industry partners.