While the UK property and mortgage markets could not be said to be ‘sizzling hot’ at the moment – rather like our weather – the latest results from the British Bankers’ Association revealed a small rise in both lending figures and mortgage approval numbers in April. The BBA also suggested that the start of the first part of the Help-to-Buy scheme covering shared equity was likely to begin filtering into stronger numbers as the year progressed, and it has to be said, there is a far greater degree of positivity around the market at the moment.
Certainly, in the conveyancing sector we are receiving strong feedback from our solicitor panel firms who have been enthusiastic about current business levels and feel this momentum can continue throughout the year. It has to be said however that many firms conducting conveyancing in this marketplace will not feel the same as those on our panel. We deal with the larger, specialist operators who will be having a rather different market experience to the more local, high-street firms.
Indeed, while the larger operators continue to invest and expand in resources, personnel, technology and infrastructure, the ‘word on the street’ is that other firms – for which conveyancing is not the ‘day job’ – look to move in the opposite direction. The major players are actively recruiting in order to fulfil the increased demand for their services, and are opening new offices around the country in order to satisfy this, while the more local, smaller players have spent the best part of the last few years looking at how they can cut back their conveyancing services and offering to the bare bones.
The difference is clear and is self-evident to a distributor like ourselves who are often contacted by firms looking to gain access to our panel. While our current panel firms can’t expand quickly enough, some of the other firms we come across often appear to be the conveyancing equivalent of ‘the firms technology forgot’.
We, our brokers and their clients, all want to engage with firms who are operating at the cutting edge of technology, with up to date systems which can easily adapt and deliver in a growing marketplace. They do not want to be dealing with firms who have treated conveyancing as a sideshow and are not able to interact technologically with all stakeholders.
One scenario recently came to light which highlights the real gulf between those conducting low numbers of cases and those who are dominating the sector at present. Take the example of a client who opted to go with their local solicitor firm because of perceived loyalty and a lack of understanding about the conveyancing business (or otherwise) they conducted. For this type of firm income from conveyancing had been decreasing for many years and therefore it was not a priority service. Instead, the conveyancing department (which once contained a number of staff) was now down to just one person.
The client in question agreed to the service however was completely unaware that the ‘conveyancing person’ was off on holiday just at the point when their work was needed. So, what happened while they were on holiday? Answer: absolutely nothing. There was no one within the firm willing or able to pick up their work and therefore the case sat there until the holiday was over. Of course, this didn’t just affect the client in question but all others within the chain, plus any other conveyancing clients the firm may have been fortunate to have, and every single other stakeholder in the transaction. In effect, everything ground to a halt.
The major question of course is would you, as a broker, firstly operate in this manner or recommend a firm which does? I’m assuming not, especially when there are so many other options available. It is also a salutary lesson for all of us – it’s about keeping our systems and services up-to-date and ensuring we all have the resource and back-up available to keep things moving regardless of who is, or isn’t, in the office. I believe it also shows the importance of technology – if you have a system from the dark ages, then you’re offering a dark ages service. Plus if your systems are up to date, you can follow the lead of the bigger operators and easily expand when the business needs to.
In all, brokers need to ensure they are in a position to move forward and achieve, plus they need to ensure their clients are working with other businesses that are in this very same place. If this is the case, then we can all be winners; if not, then the likelihood is that everyone comes out of the process far more damaged than they would ever wish to be.
Harpal Singh is managing director of Broker Conveyancing