An industry at breaking point: Conveyancing and the stamp duty holiday

The performance of the UK property market since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has been remarkable. While initially brought to a standstill during the first lockdown, the reopening of the property market in May 2020, and subsequent introduction of the Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) holiday in July 2020, has resulted in renewed buyer demand.

According to Nationwide’s House Price Index for March 2021, the annual rate of house price growth is sitting at 5.7%. This is an impressive statistic and clearly something the Government is keen to sustain as the country transitions out of lockdown. The three-month extension of the SDLT holiday until 30 June means that there is still a window of opportunity for buyers to take advantage of this tax relief.

Positive though they are, is important not to let these broad market trends overshadow the intricate workings of those involved in the property market. Estate agencies, for instance, have had to become creative in overcoming the challenges posed by social distancing restrictions, embracing technological solutions such as virtual viewings.

Perhaps more notably, the surge of activity within the property market has placed a strain on conveyancing firms, which have been under significant pressure to progress transactions ahead of the SDLT holiday ending. Yes, the extension of the holiday deadline by three months does deliver much needed reprieve, but it ultimately does not address the inevitable bottleneck of sales that conveyancers will have to manage before the end of June. The risk of sales not being completed by this deadline is growing, which means the success of the SDLT holiday will be limited.

An in-depth analysis of public data by GetAgent.co.uk revealed that the total average time taken to sell a property – from the initial listing to the completion as recorded by the Land Registry – currently stands at 295 days. That is the best part of ten months, and my concern is that the figure could rise further in the face of such significant demand.

Simply put, the conveyancing industry has reached breaking point and this summer is set to be its most challenging period yet. However, based on how the industry has adapted to the uncertainty posed by COVID-19, I am confident in its ability to tackle these problems head on.

Adopting more efficient practices and processes

Throughout the pandemic, new digital solutions have emerged that creatively streamline processes and create greater transparency during the transaction process. For example, eSignatures and automated communication can shave days off a transaction. Client onboarding, which typically takes around two weeks, can now be completed in as little as 40 minutes by embracing technology.

For an industry that has been slow to embrace the full advantages of technology, the pandemic has highlighted the need for conveyancers to digitise their processes. Not only does it reduce the chances for human error and reduce the time it takes to process a sale; it also ensures the industry is keeping up with the changing the demands of its clients. Indeed, the proliferation of next generation technology and devices has been heightened as a consequence of the pandemic, with people now expecting transparent and responsive online services.

Let’s be clear – while digitalisation of existing processes will serve to benefit conveyancing firms, it still does not change the fact that conveyancers are under immense pressure. Yes, technology does lead to more efficient and transparent processes, but we must also ensure we are recognising the needs of the industry’s professionals.

Providing support for conveyancers

In one respect, conveyancers will be working around the clock to ensure as many sales can be completed before the holiday ends. The risk is that some buyers could miss out on this initial holiday if they do not act soon. What’s more, we must also understand the pressure faced by conveyancers will not end soon as the holiday expires.

While the current SDLT holiday deadline is 30 June, the 0% SDLT threshold will temporarily rise to £250,000 until the end of September, before dropping to the standard threshold of £125,000. In short, this means the workloads of conveyancers is likely to remain high.

From a policy standpoint, the Government does have options. It could decide that instead of a hard holiday deadline, any property sales that have been agreed to in principle still qualify for the holiday even if the sale is not completed by the deadline. More radically, the Government could extend the holiday for another three to six months until buyer momentum begins to slow down. Only time will tell whether these policy reforms are considered.

For now, conveyancing firms must ensure they are doing everything they can to improve their overall efficiency. They can do this by looking to existing technological solutions. Importantly, they also need to set realistic timeframes and help clients see that certain deadlines simply cannot be fulfilled. This will reduce the strain they are currently under and lead to a better standard of service.

Scott Bozinis is the CEO of InfoTrack UK.

Homesearch EOS
x

Email the story to a friend



30 Comments

  1. smile please

    Zero sympathy for conveyancers. We deal with a lot of local firms and I know them well.

    None of them have invested in more support staff or tech to help them.

    Agents have been recruiting during this busy time, investing further in back office systems and processes. We give our mobile numbers to our clients, they text us 10pm sometimes 7am and they get a response.

    Yet again conveyancers attitude is to blame, they are so arrogant they feel everyone should work to their timescales.

    It would be nice to find a firm that realises its 2021 not 1991.

    Report
    1. Truthspeaks

      I’m glad I don’t work with you if that’s your attitude

      Report
      1. smile please

        You might speak the truth but you don’t like to hear it.

        Report
        1. jan - byers

          Im with truth there is far more to life than just work

          Report
    2. tomlyestc

      Clearly you don’t know Conveyancing as well as you think. There has been a significant shift in firms adopting certain tech by way of the pandemic acting as an accelerator. Just because the firms local to you haven’t that doesn’t apply to everyone surely? I speak and listen to hundreds of Conveyancers a month and they are certainly not arrogant. Many have not taken holiday, worked ridiculous hours now for sometime and gone above and beyond in their approach to tackling this market.

      I also wonder what your comment seeks to achieve?  Hidden behind a false name, belittling and an attitude that helps no one.

      https://www.todaysconveyancer.co.uk/main-news/call-kindness-campaign-launches/

      Report
    3. Rogerwilkinson

      Really very disappointing to see people post comments on PIE articles whilst concealing their identity. No doubt they have their reasons (or, excuses).

      Our experience over the last year, dealing with hundreds of sales, is that far and away the majority of conveyancers in the local area have been working exceptionally hard and doing a very good job for their clients, in very testing conditions.

      Many working very long hours, under enormous strain. Some forfeiting holidays and some even delaying retirement, simply to help get through the workload.

      There have been some “stand-out” exemplary individuals and there have been some overwhelmed or less helpful than they could be (often leaving the better ones having to, effectively, do some of their job) but by an large, the delays have not been down to local conveyancers.

      I suspect many of those agents who criticise conveyancers may well be amongst those who drive down fees, do little or nothing to assist their own clients in preparing for the conveyancing process, fail to do the necessary due diligence (not just the legal compliance) when putting a sale together and fail to communicate effectively with all parties during the sale process. Some, no doubt, taking kick-backs (sorry, referral fees) from intermediaries – thereby reducing the fees paid to the very conveyancers that they then choose to criticise for not investing.

      Just a guess, but I imagine that such agents have a high fall-through rate and contribute massively to delays whilst doing little or nothing to help drive change.

       

       

       

       

      Report
    4. htsnom79

      Au Contraire, in 1991 it was 8 – 12 weeks tops, the only delays were waiting for the first and second post drops or the DX

      Report
      1. smile please

        Second post and DX … Takes me back!

        Report
    5. mo1597

      I think you will find Conveyancing is far more technical than simply sticking a ‘For Sale’ board up, which is about the limit of technical ability for most agents.

      Report
  2. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

    It’s harsh to give “zero sympathy to conveyancers”.

    It should be “zero sympathy to conveyancers’ OWNERS”.

    In my direct experience you are absolutely correct – law firms have been making do and certainly not investing in people or technology.

    Which is actually quite depressing because if change isn’t forced upon the average law firm by such a huge event, you have to ask yourself, “what will?”.

    Report
  3. Rob Hailstone

    I deal with thousands of conveyancers on a regular basis. The vast majority (if not all) are, quite frankly working their socks off, and don’t deserve the vitriol being directed at them by some people. It really doesn’t help.
    The job is complex, skilled, detailed, high risk and important. It has to be done correctly, for the lay client, the lender client, the regulators and the PI insurers.
    My members are not “arrogant” they are just ordinary people trying to do, what is at times, an extraordinary job. A job that is many times more complex/involved than it was in 1991!
    Recruiting is proving difficult. It takes years for a conveyancer to become fully conversant with the hundreds of potential issues that can arise. I was at the coal face for 30 years, and yet many of the questions/issues raised on the BLG online forum are new to me, and at times extremely complex. If anyone wants to register for the forum to see the range of issues being discussed on a daily basis, please contact me: rh@boldgroup.co.uk
    Conveyancing has not been particularly well paid for many years. However, most firms have and are investing in new technology, when it will assist.
    If the Bold Legal Group folded overnight, would I go back to the coal face? Not a ****** chance!

    Report
  4. #ImpressiveConveyancing

    Conveyancers did not close shop and walk away from their deals/clients during any of the lockdowns. Conveyancers have kept home movers exchanging and completing – and at the same time, keeping estate agents paid, mortgage brokers paid and mortgage companies paid.

    Meanwhile, we have done this despite mortgage panel managers asking for pointless and parasitic ‘why is the land registry taking so long’ updates (and taking £15 from the public every time), some estate agents putting deals together and deliberately not explaining to the public that conveyancing is now 2 or 3 times slower than pre-pandemic, the Land Registry taking a mammoth time to even handle basic things like changing title form a marriage certificate, Coiuncils taking too long to effect search results and zero support from our respective professional bodies.

    Even Boris has prolonged the nightmare by giving the public another 3 months to increase the demand on the shoulders of the conveyancers!?

    Quite simply, there are currently more home movers than there are conveyancers to keep them all moving at pre-pandemic pace. But….rather than say “no, you cannot move for 6 months until there are conveyancers with capacity”, conveyancers have lost 3/4s of their holiday entitlement last year by not taking it, work weekends and up to midnight, and sure, deals have slowed of necessity …….but everyone has a conveyancer.

    Conveyancers remain the heroes, and they will continue to be heroes as the demand to exchange contracts will be completely satisfied by conveyancers…..who can then finally take a rested break when, sadly, the property market falls off a cliff….I predict in August.

     

    Report
    1. smile please

      Hero’s?

      Sums up the arrogance and how out of touch you and your ‘profession’ are.

      Report
      1. Truthspeaks

        I get you don’t like conveyancer because they are doing their job correctly and that means you don’t get your commission as quickly…  but we don’t see our clients as a quick buck like you.. we see them as a client we are giving a service to… 
        Most fee earners are doing 6 days a week and 10 hour plus days to keep up with the demand.. when you can say the same, come back to us… 
         
        have a lovely day. 

        Report
        1. smile please

          Nothing to do with commission I don’t care if I am paid now or 6 months from here.
          It’s the issue that in the main most conveyancers are poor at communicating with the other sides conveyancer, their own client and the agents.
          It’s the fact the majority add stress to an already stressful period for movers.
          It’s the fact that as others have said conveyancing process, laws have changed over the last 4 decades and the majority of conveyancers have failed to look at and update their service to all parties.
          This thread shows the issue.
          Conveyancers unable to look at themselves in the mirror and see what they can do to make the situation better, heck the god complex is alive and well with some of you calling yourself ‘heros’ is delusions of grandeur on an industry wide scale.

          Report
      2. jan - byers

        from someone in the most reviled profession on the planet ! 

        Report
        1. Truthspeaks

          Jan with the mic drop..   best thing is most clients hate their agents but big up the conveyancers..

           

          It’s time to regulate agents…  get rid of lovely people like big smile

          Report
  5. Justsayin

    These firms of solicitors (not just conveyancing firms) are still using the furlough scheme for conveyancing staff and it’s an absolute disgrace. One let it slip to me recently, job sharing which is allowed under the flexible scheme. it’s a good job we weren’t on Zoom I couldn’t get my jaw to close to get words out for a while! How is this OK when this industry is “at breaking point” with so much work? EYE why don’t you do a survey asking if firms are still using furlough for their conveyancing staff? I doubt you’ll get the true results. HMRC should inform us and make this information public.

    Any of these firms that has conveyancing staff still furloughed at all should be called out and made to pay it back.

    Report
    1. smile please

      It certainly does not help.
       
      I can name several conveyancers working locally which even before covid only work 3 days per week and do not advise their clients of this.
       
      The service is dismal and we can never speak to them for a meaningful update.

      Report
      1. jan - byers

        And I have come acri=oss agents who who lazy and useless. 

        Report
        1. Justsayin

          Constructive comment, well done Jan.

          Report
  6. James White

    Twenty years of stagnant Conveyancing fee levels forced ever downwards by panel managers of Estate Agents…….

    Conveyancing fees should be a minimum of £1000 per transaction, allowing headroom for investment in more staff and technology.

    Agents taking a cut are largely to blame for the problem they often complain about.

    Get rid of panel managers and referral fees and watch an industry improve/blossom even.

    Conveyancers and Agents would be forced into developing real relationships where quality not quantity rules.

    I have changed my view over the years…….

     

    Report
    1. Justsayin

      Agents don’t ‘take’ a cut, they’re offered it. In twenty years I’ve never asked a firm for a cut of their fees, however we’ve been offered many many times a fee in return for passing firms work. This doesn’t come from agents asking for money, it comes from the firms offering it. Usually it’s £100 per transaction, I don’t think that’s the reason  their fees haven’t gone up, I agree they should. Perhaps the firms should stop offering payments to agents to send them work and go and get it on merit, then be very good and charge appropriately?

       

      it’s annoying that your post reads like it’s agents saying we’ll only pass work to firms if you give us a cut of your fees, that’s not the case at all. They could just stop quite easily.

      Report
      1. jan - byers

        Agents do not have to use a compnay that gives that a referal fee which at the end of the day is just added to the customer costs.
        When I was an agent not once did I ever use a sol who offered referal fees. 

        Report
        1. Justsayin

          When it’s offered in a plate though, why wouldn’t you? Why don’t they just stop offering?!

          Report
      2. James White

        You are partly right – some conveyancing firms offer……some agents insist.
        Just as many agents will only refer work to those that are panel managed…..
        The business of referral fees and panel management though has suppressed Conveyancing fees and therefore funds for innovation and investment in more staff……
         
         

        Report
        1. Justsayin

          I agree James, it should be stopped, but when it’s offered on a plate from decent firms why would an agent say no? Agents shouldn’t be the ones that are saying this practice of offering us referral fees is wrong, therefore we’re going to send you work but refuse to take the money. Why doesn’t the industry get together and just stop? It has to come from the conveyancing firms, not agents, and it’s completely unfair to blame agents for ‘taking a cut’ of their fees.

          Report
  7. tim main

    Preparing the sellers for the sale is part of the house selling business estate agents can make their own.  increase their service and possibly their fee?  Various proptech solutions are making this easy to achieve including the PIP Vault service.

    Report
  8. RetiredConveyancer

    Bottom line.. Conveyancers carry too many cases to be able to proactively drive each one forward effectively.. why?  Is it the owner’s greed or having to carry such a caseload to make ends meet because of the pitiful fees that the Conveyancer has agreed to with the customer at the outset?

    Conveyancing has become so much more complex, demanding, and fraught with negligence risk…..compare the due diligence and lender requirements back in the 1980’s to now, and you would be shocked. Add to that customers who in many cases have lost their respect for lawyers and badger them by the multi-media means available to them…. no wonder Conveyancers are leaving the profession in large numbers.

    How to stop the rot? Have the nerve to charge the fees that enable you to carry a manageable caseload… 40 active cases?  This means charging over a thousand £ as a minimum… then charge fees (minimum £500) for acting for the lender…. charge double for leasehold transactions. Charge customers £10 for each interaction they or their Estate Agents or Brokers initiate by phone, email etc, to focus their minds.

    Report
  9. scruffy

    So pleased to see a degree of realisation in the more recent contributions to this thread about the issue of referral fees and how they affect service levels.
    For my part, I trumpet to all potential clients that my company has not and will not take referral fees from any organisation, for any purpose. Our clients love this aspect but many are quite shocked that this is still a practice that is so poorly regulated.
    We compete with a firm which claims not to receive any referral fees from their recommended mortgage provider, neglecting to mention that it is a wholly owned subsidiary, as a search at Companies House proves. The same company seeks to justify a £400 referral fee that it gets for recommending a solicitor.
    Thus sales become an incidental, almost troublesome inconvenience to the promotion of other related bolt-ons.  Needless to say, their clients are kept largely in the dark about all this, and we witness such debates on the service level of conveyancers and lawyers in this “wild west style” referral fee free-for-all. Fees for all are driven lower, compromising standards in the industry.
    Estate agency staff should be focussed on acting in the clients’ best interest (anyone even remember this maxim ?) and that is to sell or let their clients’ properties at the best price the market will deliver. They should not have to worry about meeting referral targets, or generating riskier property inspections simply to put them face to face with more potential targets for their referred “services”.
    It was patently clear that even during the worst spikes of Covid we have had so far, such agencies have been the first to lower their standards as their need to generate traffic is so overwhelming.
    Roll on the day when we see proper regulation in this market, and we can climb away from the low respect our industry seems frustratingly ambivalent about for so many years.

    Report
X

You must be logged in to report this comment!

Comments are closed.

Thank you for signing up to our newsletter, we have sent you an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Additionally if you would like to create a free EYE account which allows you to comment on news stories and manage your email subscriptions please enter a password below.