The relationship between estate agents and conveyancers is undoubtedly a complex one and has certainly had ‘its moments’ over the years, and no doubt will continue to do so in the future.
However, from what was sometimes a feeling of mutual distrust, I think it’s possible to see a greater degree of collaboration between the two ‘sides’ – after all, we are both subject to the same issues with the homebuying/selling process, are impacted by the same problems (for example, too many fall-throughs), and ultimately we want to make the process as efficient as possible because we get paid on completion.
Just recently, Coadjute issued a report entitled ‘Working Better Together’ which focuses on some of the issues that appear to be constants, namely communication and friction in the process. However, there is a general level of optimism about ‘working better together’ and I think it’s because we recognise the problems, know there are solutions and want to use the latter to solve the former.
So, for instance, the property sector as a whole suffers hugely from the sheer number of aborted transactions every single year. You would rightly argue that every single stakeholder has so much to gain from reducing this.
I read a recent industry survey from HBB Solutions which looked at estate agents’ experience of fall throughs and, as expected, the responses were a sorry tale of wasted time, wasted resource, and wasted money, all of which ultimately reflects badly on every single stakeholder involved.
What was interesting was that a third of the 950 property firms surveyed said that, once a sale had fallen through, the vendor chose to list with another agent, even if they had not been to blame. It’s that guilt by association for being involved, and it makes the losses even worse if that business is then taken elsewhere.
Our focus is on reducing the number of aborted transactions through the provision of upfront information, the idea being that if everyone knows all the nooks and crannies of a property and the issues upfront, then potential purchasers are in a position of strength and are less likely to put in offers on properties which, under the current system, are only found out to be problematic or unsuitable further down the line.
You’ll be acutely aware of NTSELAT three-part list which clarifies what counts as 'material information’ about a property, and what agents should be including with their marketing information upfront. Part A has already been published, and Parts B and C are coming very soon.
I was recently at an event with a large number of agents and there was almost total support for the provision of material upfront information in an acknowledgement of what it would provide consumers. However, one of the key concerns was around the collation of this information, and whether agents’ case management systems were good enough to do this effectively.
That is clearly a square that can be circled. The technology is there and I do not see this as a major hurdle. Once implemented, one of the key benefits I see for agents is not just around the ability to cut down on fall-throughs, but also in terms of having ‘stickier clients’.
For instance, the next stage of the NTSLEAT material information – B and C – is likely to include restrictive covenants. This means that conveyancers will need to be instructed upfront, to allow them to work out which ones are going to affect the average consumer, and more specifically, the client.
Again, that work will be done at the outset, allowing the client to make that informed decision about whether to offer and proceed. The conveyancer will have identified the issues already and, where they are available, put in the necessary policies in place to deal with them or identify what is required to resolve them. There will be no nasty surprises to derail the process later on, and as a result the resource, time, investment, cost put into the case is much more likely to be rewarded with a completion.
As I’ve said before, cutting down fall-throughs doesn’t just save all this with each and every case, but it will deliver a quicker completion time, which will allow agents’ pipelines to move through more quickly, delivering a greater level of income to them.
For us, the next step has to be around consumer education. To educate them that this information should be provided to them upfront, or if they are selling, that they and their agents need to collate it and provide it to potential purchasers. It is to educate them on what doing this will mean for their chances of buying/selling and how it will eliminate a huge amount of uncertainty and wasted cost.
Agents and conveyancers are definitely in the same boat on this one. The solution available will help us both and our clients, and it’s one we should not be frightened of championing in an ever more vocal way.
*Beth Rudolf is Director of Delivery at the Conveyancing Association