As we move closer to the end of the year, we invariably begin to think of what 2023 will bring, how we might adapt to a potentially different property market particularly in terms of transaction levels, and what this might mean for our businesses, our staff and all other stakeholders.
2022 has undoubtedly been a year like no other, one which I’m sure tested all property firms like few in living memory. Certainly, from a conveyancing perspective, I’m aware of many CA member firms who have spent large parts of the past 12 months grappling with resource issues not least the level of human resource they had in place to deal with a very busy marketplace.
At a number of meetings throughout the year, one of the main topics of discussion was around not just the ways and means by which firms could recruit new staff – particularly in a highly-competitive sector and industry where many businesses were looking to do the same thing – but also how best to retain the quality employees they already had, when other competitor firms were looking for experienced staff in order that they might get to work straight away.
I suspect that all kinds of property-based firms were in the same boat, particularly agents, advisers, lenders, surveyors, etc. At certain points during 2022 the market was incredibly busy, demand was outstripping supply by a considerable margin, and with those resource issues, cases were understandably taking longer to complete than any of us might wish.
As the year has progressed, and the market has shifted, I’m hopeful that the resource problem has lessened somewhat but I know our member firms are still looking to add more resource to their firms because they have ambitions to grow and take larger market share.
And, of course, while there are plenty of commentators suggesting something of a slowdown – specifically in purchase transactions – that might not come to pass. For instance, the most recent data from HMRC shows that while residential property transactions did drop by 3% between October and September, cases still remain above pre-pandemic levels. October 2022 for example is 3.5% higher than October 2019 when we might all feel we were in a pretty positive pre-Covid place.
Plus purchase activity is only one part of the market and we might well see a growing degree of remortgaging, particularly if rates continue to fall off their very recent highs. We know that remortgaging is often a catalyst for purchase activity, whether that is investors adding to portfolios or homeowners accessing equity to support family members with their purchases.
That being the case, and particularly if inflation does begin to fall sharply precipitating further drops to interest rates, then 2023 could well be a stronger year for the property market than many are anticipating.
Whatever the future, there are some fundamental areas for all property stakeholders to address. At our recent CA members’ meetings we discussed with members what they would like our priorities to be for the year ahead – in recent years we have focused extensively on improving the home buying and selling process in order to speed it up, secure efficiencies, and cut down on the time, resource and money that our market’s many aborted transactions can waste.
We will continue to do that, as well as continue fighting for leasehold reform, but it was also striking that our members also want us to focus more on creating better communication channels between all stakeholders, particularly in terms of lender engagement – which is so vital – but also across other parts of the process.
That means working more closely with agents and their trade organisations, but also focusing on key players where greater efficiencies benefit us all. Not least Government and HM Land Registry who recently published its own future strategy but which, at the same time, is trying to work through its own backlog, again as a result of the pandemic and staff shortages, etc.
There were also calls to work far more closely together as individual conveyancing firms – a very pertinent point given we deal with each other all the time – and to work with our affiliated partners who work across all kinds of sectors – search providers, insurers, technology companies, platforms, etc – more closely in order to use their products and services to secure efficiencies.
Overall, while 2023 looks like a year in which the challenges will not lessen and in which we’ll all have to face some significant economic headwinds, it can be a year of much greater collaboration and communication between all sectors and players. That will help us all make the most of the business we secure and to ensure the pipeline and the process can move as quickly as possible.
*Beth Rudolf is Director of Delivery at the Conveyancing Association (CA)