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Better tech and more staff needed to improve conveyancing times – poll result

  • 04/05/2022
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Better tech and more staff needed to improve conveyancing times – poll result
Conveyancing timeframes were hit hard by the stamp duty rush last year, causing a heavy backlog as the industry did its best to cope with the spike in demand.

Yet given the high demand still seen in Q1, the system doesn’t appear to have become any more streamlined.

The current average time for completion stands at 22 weeks, without complications, according to TwentyCi. The lengthy times are still contributing to moving house being the third greatest life event stressor, second only to death of a family member or spouse, and divorce.

As Andrew Montlake, managing director at Coreco, puts it: “Conveyancing has become a very long four-letter word amongst the broker community for some time now. It is the part of the process that has yet to adapt or evolve in any meaningful way, and is symptomatic of the issues in the home buying journey.

However, 44 per cent of brokers believe that it is taking longer than before the spike while 45 per cent haven’t noticed a difference, and 11 per cent said it’s actually getting quicker, according to the results of the latest Mortgage Solutions poll.

Montlake added: “The mortgage part is actually the part that works pretty well. A well-packaged case even on a purchase can elicit a mortgage offer in a matter of a few days, whilst a conveyancing process can be like trying to push water uphill with a bad back.”

Karen Rodrigues, director of sales at Econveyancer, said the poll results reflected the company’s experience. She said: “In March 2019, prior to the pandemic, it took an average of 137 days for the completion of a property sale. In March 2020, just as the first national lockdown was introduced, the average time to completion was 148 days and last year, in the midst of the rush to beat the stamp duty window, the average time was 165 days. By this March, the average had increased to 171 days. For purchases, the average time for completion last March was 146 days, compared to 153 this March.”

Beth Rudolf, director of delivery at the Conveyancing Association (CA), said many of its members are actually seeing faster conversion rates than the average, pointing out that the TwentyCi data takes the full process into account, including delays by understaffed or less technologically capable general practise solicitors.

Understaffed and over worked

According to Rodrigues, buyers often want to secure a sale on their property before starting to look, as this is the advice they are often given by agents. This leads to a higher number of days for sale transactions than purchase. But while there are technicalities involved “the trend across both is an upwards one and it is taking too long”.

Jonathan Burridge, founding adviser at We Are Money, is sympathetic to conveyancers that have been under increased pressure due to high demand for housing and staff absences caused by Covid.

He said: “Conveyancing has been commoditised and price driven down so that to make a living, many conveyancing firms have to run extremely lean, high volume businesses. It doesn’t take much to destabilise their business balancing act – a slow third party, staff absence, a sudden increase of volume. All of this happened together during 2020 and 2021 causing a conveyancing crunch and there was nowhere for conveyancing firms to hide.”

Rob Peters, principle at Simple Fast Mortgages also feels sympathy for conveyancers. He said: “Most frontline conveyancers want to do a good job, but they physically can’t – they are restricted by the volume of work heaped upon them by their firms in the pursuit of enhanced revenues for ‘fat cat’ legal partners.

“Speak to any solicitor working in the property sector and they will speak of feeling understaffed, underpaid, a lack of training, and high-stress environments being damaging to employees mental health.”

Legal and lender headaches

Jason Berry, group sales and marketing director at Crystal SF, feels that solicitors can be a major roadblock when it comes to completion times.

He said: “The speed and efficiency of legal work is particularly poor across the specialist sector, where we still see far too many lawyers ill-equipped to deal with a legal pack which makes a few more demands upon them than would be the case with high street funding.

“Connecting the right lawyers with the right lenders has become another essential part of the work brokers and specialist distributors must deliver to their clients and anyone not getting this right will surely suffer from lower conversions and disappointed customers.”

Jamie Thompson, mortgage broker at Jamie Thompson Mortgages, said the range in the quality of conveyancing varies to such an extent that one of his clients had to wait longer than six months – the standard length of a mortgage offer.

He said: “I wince when my clients tell me they’ve picked [a solicitor] based on an estate agent saying ‘they are our in-house solicitor so it will all be done quickly’. Shop around, read reviews. Ultimately if somebody else in the chain has picked a doozy though, everyone else is going to suffer.”

Montlake added: “Some lenders have to take their share of the blame. Pushing down the cost into a bucket-shop ‘service’ just to be able to tag on the concept of ‘free legals’. Brave lenders should axe them – pure and simple, and replace them with a nicer cashback. Elsewhere, there are still too many conveyancers that write letters in quill and ink then send them off attached to the foot of Percy the Pidgeon whilst they close for lunch and a quick nap. In both these cases the concept of customer service eludes their grasp.

“Thankfully there are some great conveyancers out there, who really care about their clients and are only too happy to respond to brokers, whilst technology is beginning to make a difference, with some great work being done by certain groups on fixing this part of the journey. Blockchain technology will eventually make one heck of a difference and finally change the conveyencing landscape, leading to sighs of relief from buyers, estate agents and brokers alike.”

Fintech to the rescue

Digital platforms were suggested as a means to speed things up.

Marcus Wright, managing director at Bolton Business Finance, said: “The process is slow, antiquated and all-round frustrating for everyone involved. The problem is the process has barely changed with the times, hardly anything is digital, lots of paperwork is still being posted and scanned and lost. Then add on top of that many conveyancing solicitors taking on huge workloads, with it not unusual to wait one to two weeks every time for a reply. The whole process needs to be made digital, quicker and simpler.”

However, even where the process has been digitised, there are still problems with inadequate platforms that can make things harder when it comes to more complex cases.

Scott Taylor-Barr, financial adviser at Carl Summers Financial Services, said: “When remortgaging, many clients and brokers will naturally opt for the free legal package offered by the new lender. However, these services are often stripped down to the bare bones of the job and over-worked, especially in the current market where we still see huge volumes of property transactions.

“It all works fine if your application is a simple one, but if you have a slightly unusual property, or want to amend the title in some way, then it all starts to unravel pretty quickly into a slow and painful test of patience.”

Rodrigues said her firm was addressing this, adding: “We are investing in technology to accelerate digital adoption in home moving and enhance the home moving experience. In doing this, we can also reduce the timelines and help to remove current frustrations with the process.”

What can be done to reduce times?

Rudolph said: “CA recognises that there is more to be done through the delivery of material information via the property portals, which is being worked on by National Trading Standards Estate and Lettings Agency Team. The Home Buying and Selling Group are also looking to take it a step further by encouraging the delivery of all information upfront and lobby government to mandate it, so that everyone has the certainty and transparency necessary to make home moving a positive experience.”

She suggested that gathering information from an early stage is paramount to an application’s success.

“In Scotland they have the Home Report which includes the Property Information Form and their transactions are four weeks faster than in England and Wales, and 60 per cent less transactions fall through after offer. So we know that if estate agents and conveyancers collaborate when the property goes on the market, for the conveyancer to gather the relevant information that the buyer’s conveyancer and lender will use, then it will take months off the current timescales.

“It will also enable the conveyancer to highlight to the seller any issues which they could fix before a buyer is found, in order to save fall throughs and delays, and increase the value which they will get for their property” she added.



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