Conveyancing is not fit for purpose – we must blame someone

Peter Ambrose
Peter Ambrose

Have you noticed that right now, more than ever, it seems that we all need someone to blame?

Cost of living crisis? World economic events.

Descent into moral bankruptcy? Boris Johnson.

House buying and selling? Conveyancers. Obviously.

When the mainstream media runs stories on their front pages with claims that, like Boris, it’s “broken … not fit for purpose” you know the mood music is changing.

However, the question should be, IS the process broken and if so what aspect and is it possible to fix it?

“Communication, communication, communication”

The main culprits seem to be poor communication, third party delays and “problems with chains” – whatever that means.

When people talk about communication problems, they actually mean “we don’t know what’s going on” and lawyers are the obvious target.  Given that for many, working 100 cases is not unusual, it won’t come as a surprise if they don’t know what’s going on themselves.  Especially when they are forced to work in paper-stuffed sweatshops, or worse, from their kitchen table surrounded by suitcases of files, it’s no wonder they can’t keep people updated.

Conveyancers are not going to be able to solve this communication problem by themselves – everyone involved in the process has a part to play. Firstly, the number of cases per lawyer must be reduced –this will be achieved by increasing fees and this is where agents come in.  By abandoning the ludicrous panel management system, ( now there IS something that is not fit for purpose ) and dealing directly with lawyers, this will improve margins so caseloads will be reduced.

Secondly, and yes, it’s obvious, lawyers need to take some baby steps on technology adoption.  We know wholesale change is a distant pipedream, but lawyers can make small changes that cost nothing. For example, we occasionally receive Word documents with enquiries so we can fill in the replies and send it back.  It’s not elegant, but it’s efficient, it works and it’s free. If everyone just made that small change, it could be shared and will have an immediate impact on communication.

Third party delays

Communication issues are nothing when compared to delays with third parties. The problem is the house buying and selling process involves a lot of them; local authorities, water companies, managing agents, mortgage lenders, surveyors and removal companies – each work independently with widely varying degrees of efficiency.

This year, we’ve seen that if a process involves a human this will usually cause a delay. Call any bank or lender and the message “our phones are very busy due to Covid” is the starting point.  Addressing this problem will be difficult.

During lockdown, local authorities received heavy criticism and while a few are not covering themselves in glory, most have sorted themselves out and are working well – the days of blaming them for delays are pretty much behind us.  While Land Registry are to be commended for their efforts in digitising searches, this is just enforcement notices, listed buildings and planning agreements; planning history, building control and highway information are not on the list yet, but it’s a step in the right direction.

When it comes to leasehold properties, there has been little progress around the provision of management information, so dealing with companies will continue to be painful. No doubt there is a cool proptech solution out there, but it’d need to be free to use and mandatory.  Which could be a challenge.

“Chains – it’s all their fault”

Ask any Australian (in our opinion, THE thought leaders in property ) and they’ll explain that because they don’t have chains, they don’t have stress and delays – if it works in Melbourne, it’ll work in London.  Only it won’t.  There, chains are much shorter, less frequent and the settlement process brings far more certainty.  It’s also cultural – “it’s not the English way” – we move from one owner-occupied property to another – that’s what we do.  They may as well suggest we stop getting into fights at England away games in Europe – it’s just not going to happen.

The reality is the chain is not the issue itself, but problems within each individual transaction.  Suggesting the “chain” is responsible for delays is like blaming motorways for traffic congestion.  Eliminate the transactional issues and the so-called “chain delays” will be reduced.

Broken and not fit for purpose

The term “not fit for purpose” is thrown around quite freely these days, whether it’s the NHS, passport office or the DVLA, but when it comes to property, we do need a reality check.

Could the house buying and selling process be better? Absolutely.

Is it broken and not fit for purpose?

If you ask one of the 1.5 million people who moved last year, many will say it was stressful, took longer than expected and they wouldn’t do it again soon.

But it worked.

Peter Ambrose is founder of conveyancing specialist The Partnership. 



Email the story to a friend


  1. mattfaizey

    stressful, took longer than expected and wouldn’t do it again’………..’but it worked’

    Well, yes.

    On the other hand we could interprete that as ‘despite utterly **** service ultimately we got there in the end’

    We’re all going to have different definitions of ‘fit for purpose’

    That isn’t mine.

    Its the equivalent of the movers saying, ‘we might take until midnight to move you in, and your furniture might be beaten up a bit, but we’ll consider ourselves fit for purpose as, you’re in’

    The thing is though, I kind of agree with you.

    The system is fit for purpose.

    The implementation of that system is pathetic.

    Peter, I’ve challenged you and others to do this before – write a description of what great conveyancing service is from the clients perspective all the way from instruction to actually putting the key into the lock of their new home.

    Dont forget to include what what time of the day that key goes on.

    Please discuss the clients stress levels through admin, timeline, and then over exchange.

    If you do it, you’ll be the first.











    1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

      Yes – I do remember that challenge about what “great” looks like  I’d love to but it’s REALLY difficult – one person’s brilliant is another’s disgraceful.

      Example – our portal – it’s purpose is to protect our clients against email scams.  Most clients never comment .  Quite a few rave about it “efficient, centralised, easy to use – fantastic”.   Every month or so, we get complaints; “You hide behind it.  I just want to speak to someone.  It’s impersonal”.   Our phone numbers are shown everywhere and we actively encourage calls ( yes – at ANY time of the day!) and yet it’s a problem.

      Here’s my stab at the ideal client journey;

      -No forms to fill in.

      – No need for identification documents

      – No money on account

      – Ideally little or no involvement in the deal – lawyer handles everything

      – Lawyer always available able to answer telephone and give immediate answers

      – Instant mortgage offers that are 100% correct

      – Single payment of one amount on completion and not before

      – Exchange in a couple of months

      – Completion 2 weeks later


      That’s about the sum of it !

      1. mattfaizey

        Whomever placed a thumbs down on this post needs to take a long hard look in the mirror

  2. Rob Hailstone

    Moral bankruptcy, I blame Love Island, not Boris.
    8 possible ways to help improve matters:
    Increase fees; Reduce file numbers; Recruit new young blood and train and pay them well; Use the best technology; Reduce the number of daily interruptions, or make them more manageable; Reduce the number of chains (or at least provide a chain sheet/view of the parties involved); Earlier conveyancer engagement; Agents and conveyancers working together in perfect harmony (credit to Paul & Stevie)
    Interesting article about panels raising the amount they should pay conveyancers in another agency publication today. A genuine concern for conveyancers or, are they simply struggling to keep existing firms and recruit new ones?

  3. Charlie Lamdin

    I have an example of great conveyancing. The conveyancer I have used for 25 years (5 transactions):

    1. ALWAYS Answers the phone, immediately, himself (he’ll place a current call on hold to tell me he’ll call back if he’s on another call)

    2. Always knows what’s happening with the transaction off the top of his head.

    3. Always updates me immediately with any progress or news.

    4. Has never over-promised, not once.

    5. Never waits to be chased, just gets on with it, surprisingly fast

    6. Best of all, whenever he encounters problems with searches, deeds etc he always solves the problem first before calling me to update.

    I discovered him when a friend of mine who worked at Foxtons told me: “this guy is our secret weapon. He’s so busy we never refer him except to our best clients. He ALWAYS gets the deal done.”

    And he does. He costs more, around £1700 for a typical £300k property, but worth every last penny every time.

    That’s what great conveyancing is like, at least in my experience, but I know he’s exceptional.

    1. Rob Hailstone

      Sounds great Charlie, and like I used to work, doing a 70 hour week, plus. Be interesting to know his case load and how he handles his incoming etc. Hopefully, not like I had to #workaholic

  4. mattfaizey

    The problem with the ‘pay more earn more’ response is as follows;

    In any trade or profession simply paying more does not yield results.

    If an individual or collective is simply bad at their job for any singular or number of reasons then throwing more money at them will not change that.

    Being paid more doesn’t precede good service, it is the result of it.

    First off, an individual or dept, or collective need training to perform their role well.

    Then, after this, and most importantly of all they need a definition of what success in the role is. If that role is customer and client focussed then the defining factor becomes only the result for the paymaster.

    Skilled individuals need standards to work to and a defined outcome of what a great result is.

    Making the case to the public ‘we’re broadly failing you so pay us more’ is a smidge laughable and the response from those who pay the wages (customers) would rightly be ‘Foxtrot Oscar, when you perform well we’ll pay you more’.

    Which, through time is quite simply the obvious and proven method. It’s simply how the market and business works.




  5. mattfaizey


    If you ever fancy a crack at it I’d happily help.

    Nobody has had the bottle or capability to do it yet.

    A proper marker in the sand to say ‘This, this is how it should happen, and this is how the client should receive the service. This is the outcome and below this is a failure’

    So many bodies and associations,……you’d think it’d have been done by now




  6. Rob Hailstone

    It’s not about bottle or capability, your usual inflammatory type of comments Matt:(

    Thousands of professionals already know how it should be done, in a perfect world (and sometimes circumstances allow that to happen), simply writing that down won’t help if the current issues (and there are many) aren’t resolved. We don’t need a ‘This is how it should work’ manual, we need a ‘This is how it can/will work manual.’

    1. mattfaizey

      Capability is exactly what its about.
      That you literally cannot equate results with capability is surprising, That therefore you cannot make the logical deduction that capability and attitude = customer service level is also surprising.
      The public will not pay for naff service. Full stop. No matter the profession or trade. Become better – get more respect – earn more. Your job ought to be to facilitate the process, however much like a self help meeting for addictions first you have to admit there is a problem.
      You have accused me of being a stuck record on my complaining, however constantly repeating the words ‘pay us more’ without acknowledging exactly why nobody considers it worth paying for is a strategy only to ensure the status quo.
      p.s who used the word ‘bottle’? and exactly what is inflammatory about referring to how respecvt, results, attitude, and education + service level influences earnings across all sectors?

  7. Alan Murray Conveyancing's voice of common sense

    Interesting article as in the last few days my feed on another social media site has been getting clogged up by more and more conveyancers moaning about their peers, or people outside the profession criticising conveyancers on things they have no knowledge of.

    No doubt the profession has become more confrontational. Yes in the past people tried to score points on one another and there was plenty of one-upmanship, now it is just rudeness and unprofessionalism. My favourite quote which I am seeing more and more is “there are no professionals left in the profession”. Another point people are making is that many of the posts on social media now go against the CQS guidelines for professional conduct. Whilst the CLC Code of Conduct says:-

    You do not take unfair advantage of any person whether or not a client of the business. No-one, client, employee, colleague, job applicant, trainee or other party you deal with feels discriminated against (whether directly or indirectly), victimised or harassed”

    Well they are fit for purpose then? Being breached every minute of every day I would suggest.

    But whilst Conveyancing mirrors the country in the lack of leadership from the top the situation will only become worse. It is like the Wild West right now, and sadly, a complete embarrassment to be a conveyancer at this moment in time. We all know how to improve things, problem is nobody asks the right people, and the issues are too deeply ingrained.

    I said throughout the SDLT holiday conveyancers were developing an attitude of “us against the world”. I was roundly criticised for daring to have an opinion but unfortunately I have been proved correct. A lot of the behaviour on view now stems from that time, and the sense of entitlement a lot of conveyancers seem to feel they have. Leading to all the confrontation and “I’m better than you” type attitudes and posts. Which lead to more comments ad infinitum.

    When I started work conveyancing was a profession to be proud of. Since then there have been several changes in conveyancing, yet I cannot think of one that has improved the profession. In fact they have probably all made it worse, to where we are now. Which in some ways makes a case for no more meddling from Government or regulators in the profession.

    The system is not broken. It is just many of the people within it do not appreciate the important positions they hold, and do not know their jobs. Experience is the answer, I was not let near a file for more than two years when I was a trainee in my first job. Now people run cases with limited experience, no way can they be expected to know what they are doing. At the very least it should be mandatory that nobody should be working on a conveyancing file unsupervised without two years on the job experience. That is a start.

    Interesting too Peter to read your ideal client journey. That is exactly how conveyancing was in the dim and distant past. Yet we older practitioners are told we are dinosaurs and we should not go back to the old methods? Hmmm.

    1. mattfaizey

      Absolutely, indeed a voice of common sense.

      I’ve quite literally just put the phone down from a couple who have this morning travelled five hours down into Dorset. They have deliberately aimed for @13:00 in order to move into their bungalow. The moving crew are there, smack on time for them. They’ve just rung the solicitors and been told ‘We don’t have any information for you, your solicitor is now on lunch and cannot be disturbed’.

      This is the sort of pompous nonsense we hear day in, day out. It feeds into the service level all the way through.

      Peters ideal client journey is correct, it doesn’t finish with ‘and ensuring the client has completed by 13:00’ but I’m sure he’d agree. As I’m sure you would too.

      PIE need to give you a voice on this subject Alan.

  8. Rob Hailstone

    I doubt you were criticised for having an opinion Alan, but you may have been challenged for the opinion itself. As you are now  “Conveyancing’s voice of common sense” you really should join the BLG, The Conveyancing Community. Approx 700 firms and 5000 individual conveyancers. You know where I am.

  9. Rob Hailstone

    Matt, might I respectufully and seriously suggest that you and Alan work together and write a description of what a great conveyancing service is. I would happliy distribute it amongst my membership when written.

    1. mattfaizey

      If that was in proposition that I’d seriously and respectfully suggest that you should be involved also.

      1. Rob Hailstone

        Matt (Alan), I repeat my offer, but there is no way I could work with you or Alan, and I guess vice versa. In my opinion, you both have very entrenched views (some good ones of course) and I don’t have enough free time for the battles that would no doubt ensue.
        I have a couple of projects on the go to help try to improve the process (Bold Legal Move and National Conveyancing Week) and I need to keep focused on them.

  10. Gonzo38

    A few hand-grenades to throw in:

    1) Why is it that everyone blames everyone else for breaking the system? Here’s a counter-view, every party is a little bit guilty,. From agents to conveyancers, lenders to local authorities, land registry to management co’s, leaseholders to new homes builders, search providers and yes, buyers and sellers.

    2) Why would everyone break the system? Because their incentives aren’t aligned, they don’t actually all want the same thing, at the same time

    3) But it used to be much easier? Erm, yer. And 55 years ago it was perfectly legal to down 10 pints at the pub then whiz up the M1 at 120mph. Times, legislation, working practices and dare I say it, ways of extracting cash from the transaction (ground rent on a 5 year old 4 bed detached on a newly built estate..) have changed it. Do we like it? Depends if you’re on the list above benefitting from it

    4) Conveyancers / Estate Agents (delete as appropriate) can change it and make it better? Individual companies can (and usually do) work effectively together, but they’ll only touch the tip of the iceberg. The Conveyancing process is simply too reliant on 3rd parties (again, see list above) and their incentives

    5) OK spartypants, how do you suggest this gets sorted? All parties need an incentive to collaborate (and no, it isn’t about the consumer moving home, for some of the parties above there isn’t actually an incentive for the move to take place..), that probably looks like government legislation, which isn’t going to happen in the short-medium term. So no, no silver bullet from me I’m afraid.

  11. Agent75

    The biggest problem is you can’t cure stupidity. One fool not doing their job property, be they agent, conveyancer, lender or local authority clerk will ensure that all the other efficient people in the chain have to go at the idiots pace. And don’t get me started on buyers and sellers…!

    Perhaps an intelligence test before you’re allowed to buy a house might be a good start. Or a pack that has the majority of the relevant documentation that is a legal requirement before anyone is allowed to market a house. Oh, wait…!

  12. Flatnose1927

    We recommend The Partnership, and think they’re great. It’s a business trying to do all it can to circumnavigate an eccentric and often complex process.

    In my experience, inherently most people mean well. And if treated with respect, courtesy and a healthy dollop of humour, they will rise to the challenge with all the intelligence and effort they can bring to bear.

    But things go wrong. Delays happen. Be it the apartment block management company secretary not answering emails as they’re ill, the estate agent who accidentally opened an email then forgot to respond, the vendor who forgot to complete their forms before embarking on an extended cruise, or the mortgage valuer who didn’t think to ask why there’s a concrete underpin beneath the cottage wall before zero rating it, we are all human. And we are not perfect!

    Communication absolutely IS the weakest link. But perhaps if we all stopped being quite so demanding, became a bit more circumspect, shouted less and asked politely a little more, life would be easier!

    This mantra has helped me avoid an extended stay with Her Majesty’s Prison Service for many a long year. I recommend it wholeheartedly 😉


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.