Anyone working in the property sector is well-placed to explain how much of a rollercoaster the last few months have been.
The mini-Budget outlined by the former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng almost instantly impacted the mortgage market and dented the confidence of many who were considering buying or selling a property.
Many weeks later, we are still feeling the effects. As we approach the end of the year, the question that many in the sector have is what 2023 will hold.
Earlier this month, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) - an organisation I respect and follow - told conveyancing firms to stress test their businesses for a sharp decline in work volumes.
In their notice, the regulator said the economic outlook for the UK was “uncertain” and pointed out how during the 2007 to 2008 global financial crisis, conveyancing transactions fell by 40% while the turnover of CLC-regulated firms dropped by 27%.
While firms recovered quickly, the CLC said: “We are now entering a very different world.”
It added: “There is a growing consensus that property transaction volumes look set to fall and some of you are telling us that there is already evidence of that. That might be expected anyway given the very high volumes in 2021.
“However, increasing interest rates, the Bank of England’s stated expectation that the UK economy will be in recession until summer 2023, the falling availability of mortgage products and the tightening supply of properties for sale will all contribute to falling transaction numbers.”
For conveyancers this is clearly a sobering warning, and one we are all taking very seriously.
Right now, firms which primarily or solely focus on conveyancing would be wise to prepare a contingency plan that sets out steps they would take to protect the business in the event of a fall in transaction volumes similar to that we saw 15 years ago.
Preparing for the worst is vital for the resilience of the legal services sector and for the sustainable provision of conveyancing and probate services to the public.
But, equally, like any other sector which faces pressures, the key will be maintaining a high standard of service. That’s why this is a good moment to consider what a good conveyancing solicitor actually looks like?
Firstly, a solicitor not on your mortgage lender’s approved panel of solicitors can lead to unnecessary complications or even a refusal to lend. Make sure that your appointed solicitor is on the panel of the bank or building society you’re using for your mortgage.
If they’re not, ask them to register with that lender. Registration can take time and, in a time dependent market this can cause issues.
All solicitors will charge fees, these can be wide-ranging, depending on location and reputation. Ordinarily a house purchase will be a trying time on your finances so make sure that you budget for your conveyancing costs. The cheapest conveyancer is not often the best solicitor or even a solicitor at all, so be cautious if the price is significantly lower than you expected there will be a reason.
Cheaper estimates may mean the conveyancer has lots of files and cannot give your case as much attention as you would want. Saving a few hundred pounds might delay the transaction which means extra rent or mortgage fees where you live currently being incurred. These costs are often not considered.
A reputable conveyancer should always provide a full breakdown of costs so you’re in no two minds about the services you’re paying for. Approaching a solicitor to manage your property sale or purchase should be transparent and clear from the very beginning. A great way of evaluating a solicitor is to check what the previous clients have to say about them as a conveyancer.
Most of the time you should expect to pay for the service you get.
If a conveyancer has outstanding reviews from people that they have taken through the process you’re likely to be in safe hands. To find out more about how solicitors help during the house buying process you can get additional information here:
Experienced solicitors are likely to be far better equipped to handle your conveyancing than a practice that is made up of legal juniors but expect to pay more.
Don’t be afraid to ask your solicitor what experience they have and what qualifications they hold. Check they are a solicitor. While you may be tempted to hire a conveyancer in a different location because they offer attractive rates, this may also have repercussions.
Hiring a conveyancer from your local area puts them at an advantage because they specialise in that location. A local conveyancer will be abreast of local developments and news that could potentially impact your property purchase. Hiring a local solicitor could significantly speed up the completion process.
The property buying process can be convoluted and confusing, especially if you’re a first-time buyer. A conveyancer that communicates with you as the process unfolds is definitely one you should seek out. Chasing solicitors as well as all of the other hassles that come along with buying a property is additional and unneeded stress.
Good conveyancers hold your hand every step of the way. Choosing the right solicitor could be the single most important thing you do along the house buying journey.
A well-qualified, communicative and informed solicitor can relieve you of any additional stress and allow you to concentrate on other things like choosing a removals service and getting set up in your new house.
*Colum Smith is Head of Vision at Taylor Rose MW Solicitors