How do we cut risk and reduce the time in conveyancing transactions?  

by Paul Saunders

The property industry has been looking at ways to speed up transactions for the whole of my career and it is safe to say there is no golden bullet or one component that will solve all our problems. It is a complex and unwieldy part of life – property chains, consisting of two or more families purchasing properties together, will be fraught with challenge, misinformation, confusion, and jargon.

This ignores the legal, financial, emotional, and practical considerations of having to temporarily disrupt your family life when moving from one property to another and potentially one location to another too.

Having just relocated my family 160 miles south, (yes a COVID move!) I know first-hand how much of a rollercoaster those 9 months were – and yes it did take 9 months and we are both property lawyers……………

You may be thinking, why did it take that long? Who could have helped and speeded up the process and whose “fault” was it? (We seem to like that word in this industry). The truth is it is no-one’s fault, it was just a set of circumstances faced by the 40% of people who have moved home during the pandemic.

So, what might have helped with the house buying process?

House buying and selling is a complex and intertwined set of transactional procedures, involving multiple professionals, who struggle to balance regulation and process with reality. There is no doubt that the provision of up-front information, vetting of potential purchasers and awareness of buyers’/vendors’ circumstances and emotional positioning would greatly help in property transactions. Your gut instincts are priceless, and we had the most outstanding and perceptive estate agent and lawyer that guided and supported us throughout the process. But unfortunately, that did not prevent two purchasers pulling out for varied reasons in our property transaction.

In both instances, an improved attitude to risk, being kept in the loop, advised appropriately and their knowledge and understanding of what is significant in a property transaction would have helped the purchasers considerably in both cases.

It is still probably the largest financial transaction of our lives and one that we, on average, only undertake every 20 years (and you can see why!).

There are vast improvements to be made to make this easier for people and the professionals. The unprecedented pandemic has meant the conveyancing industry has endured one of the most stressful times. Covid-19 has constantly caused record breaking stats across the conveyancing landscape – not only for the number of transactions but also the time that it is taking to complete the transactions.

This has been a catalyst for the perfect storm, but also the best time to learn how we can evolve. A year ago, no one in the conveyancing industry would have said it was possible to work from home let alone break records while doing it.

Now that hurdle is out of the way – we have proven we can change – we cannot go back, we have achieved far too much for that. Now let us realise our potential and change with our newfound knowledge and empathy for the professionals – and the complexities that can defeat those that think this is easy to develop and evolve.

Up – front information – where do we start?

There is a lot of talk about up-front information about what it should include and how far should it go. The Conveyancing Association and the Home Buying and Selling Group have both done considerable work on this and produce sensible ideas. The implementation needs to be carried out by the IT sector, while supported by the industry from all aspects in the conveyancing field. There is a race to be won but it is far from a one-horse race; success will only be achieved if we work cohesively together with all sections and parties to provide small gains and logical steps.

Conveyancing is a process that is largely not understood, and the consumer needs (and has little choice but) to place their trust in the professionals, other stakeholders and interested parties – misplaced or not it has to be there. Very often the Agent is the first person that you encounter in the process, because we must start somewhere – right? They form your perceptions and become potentially your trusted advisor. Often anyone else that comes along in the process may struggle to gain the level of trust they need to do their job properly. Unfortunately, the one person that you need to trust, and the only person that can tell you when the transaction is ready to proceed, is the lawyer. A conveyancer is potentially the last person that you meet after the financial advisor, estate agent, new build developer, the vendor and so on.

Consequently, your perceptions, plans, timings, and life decisions are potentially well formed by the time that someone asks, “Who is your lawyer?” Supposedly, only then do we the lawyer join the party.

But what do we join? Potentially a process that already has many formulated plans. What problems are we perceived to cause? Well, anything from delay to downright obstruction. Why is this? My vote goes to the fact that in many peoples’ minds the emotional purchase has taken place already, the sellers want you to have their property, you love it, the mortgage has been arranged, estate agent is on board, and everything is sorted, isn’t it?

Removing the barriers

Unfortunately it is far from the case – therefore, we need to look at this differently. If the legal checks and documentation were all prepared ahead of time and the conveyancer was in fact the first person that you met when you decided to sell (or buy) your home, then maybe those expectations and technical hurdles could be solved before the fun stuff of getting a buyer or finding your dream home starts.

This also means that the relationship with the one person that can control when the transaction proceeds is formed at the outset and that elusive trust and confidence is understood and developed at the earliest opportunity. What if at that first meeting you met with an IT genie who then guided you through the entire process and helped organise everything from estate agents, removal companies to the transfer of your utilities – the art of the possible – we have seen such evolution in respect of other products and services from insurance to holidays, so why not in conveyancing?

A platform that allows you to communicate with all the parties, receive updates on the property searches, with the process of funding right through to the detail of the legal transaction – and then ultimately the report on the title and the proposed dates for completing. Culminating in the satisfactory registration of the title in your name and the protection of the lender.

It is closer than we might imagine, and we are working hard at Legal Eye and ULS to produce the framework, but I am not sure that people have contemplated how far we should change to get the conveyancer front and centre.

Looking to the future and striving for the best for law firms is what we do at Legal Eye and looking for a solution that helps all involved in the conveyancing process, most importantly the lawyer, is something we will continue to discuss and drive forward with our clients and partners.

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