Conveyancing – it’s not just about whining conveyancers but baffled and stressed buyers

Last month, we were challenged to write about the wider issues faced by the house buying public rather than just those suffered by “whining conveyancers”.

To be fair, lawyers are known to whine. It’s usually because they work in old-fashioned environments with ludicrously high caseloads and constantly ringing telephones caused by a complete lack of understanding of service provision.

We really didn’t need the Government to run an enquiry into what is wrong with the buying and selling process.

Budget-starved Whitehall could have saved a fortune by popping into a couple of estate agents, called a few lawyers and carried out a survey in the Woking Asda for 20 minutes. The answer would have been the same.

Buying a property is a complete pain in the neck.

From the minute a buyer has their offer accepted, they are thrown into a highly complex process that uses unfamiliar terminology and involves numerous people, any of whom could mess it up.

In short, they experience a lack of control that would make a Brexiteer weep into his Great British Breakfast.

KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid

Those experts who think the issues are caused by the public’s lack of education on the buying process need to go and sit somewhere quiet and dark.

It’s like suggesting that everyone should know how to replace an iPhone battery – sounds completely sensible, but it’s very difficult, there are lots of very fiddly parts and, as with the inner workings of a sausage factory, people really don’t want to know how it is done.

Property terminology is confusing for those who don’t deal with it regularly and the experts tell us that using “plain English” is the answer.

After all, pity the first-time buyer who is told to instruct a lawyer “for the Memorandum of Sale”.

It sounds awfully legal and complex but this is only a foretaste of what’s to come.

When we get to “Declarations of Trust” or a “Surrender and Regrant” it’s no wonder people’s thoughts drift off to the latest recoupling on “Love Island”.

The problem is we NEED consistent descriptions for documents and issues that all the industry understands. It’s like asking an Alfa Romeo mechanic not to use the term “swirl actuator” but instead say something like “a thingy that pumps air into the diesel to make the engine run smoothly”.

As lawyers, agents, mortgage brokers, agents and surveyors who deal with this terminology every day, we need to take the time to explain these to our clients.

It takes effort and commitment because dull lists of “frequently asked questions” or telling people to “Google it” are simply not going to cut it.

Surely agents don’t cause issues?

Well, sometimes agents really don’t help themselves.

It is not unknown for them to offer legal advice which can lead to tricky situations.

An agent recently told a client we did not have to refer an allowance to the mortgage lender, after we had explicitly told them we had to.

This resulted in the client instructing us not to communicate with the agent going forward which caused even more problems.

Another agent, who was genuinely trying to be helpful, checked with a local authority about a wall that had been taken down, which subsequently turned out not to have Building Regulations approval.

This put the property on notice with the council, so we couldn’t get indemnity insurance – the property become unmortgageable and everyone was a little sadder after that.

What about those lenders, eh?

Buyers, having been lulled into a false sense of security by the almost instant mortgage agreement in principle, are often shocked by the impact their mortgage lender can have on their deal.

Just last week, on the day of exchange, we were waiting for approval from a lender.

Out of the blue, they refused authority because the property had two titles and they insisted they be merged into a single title before exchange.

This process could take months and would have certainly killed the deal.

We were able to convince the lender to wait until completion, but this took almost a whole day of cajoling, with the resulting stress for our client.

Let’s not forget about the banks

Completion day is always extremely stressful for buyers, and lawyers often get blamed for things going wrong.

Obviously, lawyers have been known to forget to order mortgage money, but the banks are perfectly capable of generating all kinds of excitement by themselves.

Despite what most people think, money really CAN go missing at a bank.

In one case, we sent £4m to a bank which then denied all knowledge of it. Naturally, our client was a trifle concerned, especially as this denial lasted for over 24 hours.

It took the bank until the following afternoon to confirm it had had money all the time but it had put it into a suspense account for anti-money laundering checks. Which was nice.

So, what’s to be done?

The process IS difficult, and there are no silver bullet solutions.

However, raising awareness of the numerous issues that can arise so expectations can be set correctly may help the public understand a little more about what could go wrong and maybe there will be fewer surprises and less stress.

Now, if only the Remain campaigners had tried that approach a couple of years ago . . .

* Peter Ambrose is founder of The Partnership, an independent conveyancing practice


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  1. smile please

    Seems like blame shifting to me.

    We have a stressful sale going through. Asked conveyancer numerous times leading up to exchange “Anything else needed” no was the reply numerous times.

    Day we looked to exchange. Conveyancer advises they had not even started the conveyancing on the related remortgage as they had missed it on the file!

    Would love to say this is a rare case but it’s not. More often then note communication and proactivity is often missing.

    1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

      It’s not pointing fingers – we KNOW there are incompetent lawyers out there – this is old news!
      We were just shining a light on issues that arise outside of the Conveyancing world!  ( For a change!)
      If we were to write an article about how some estate agents never give sellers feedback after viewings (my personal experience) then that would be a waste of ink!

      1. smile please

        Not really, to be honest if there is a perceived issue here would be good to know.

        As an industry i am all for raising standards. I could turn round and say, if you have not heard by 10am the next morning they are not putting an offer forward, and the reason for that is it is overpriced.

        Truth is agents should call the morning after and advised they have left a message and the applicant has not got back to them. and feedback should always be price related as that is the only real reason a property is not purchased.

        You see, happy to take your comments on.

        Peter, the truth is attitude and workload conveyancers take on. If more conveyancers looked at this standards would raise. The problem is its not a few poor conveyancers it the majority of them.

        Just another example, we had a freehold property took 17 weeks to exchange, the conveyancer was atrocious and was a local not a panel solicitor.

  2. surrey1

    You got a reply? I’ve got a couple of sales going through in which neither solicitor responds at all. At least I assume they’re going through, hard to know!

  3. mattfaizey

    Started well.

    End result – ‘it’s not easy for us conveyancers, please bear with us’. We’re so sorry you don’t understand the complexity of our job’

    Another article purporting to view from publics perspective fails to actually talk about why the public are ‘baffled’ and stressed.

    And I think you’ll find there’s as many in Waitrose as anywhere else ‘baffled’ by the process.

    The article is patronising. 



    1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

      Bit harsh Matt!

      The point I was making (and we only have 800 words) is that there are factors in the process that people have no idea about. ( And they really don’t)

      Why is it patronising to give examples of where things go wrong and it causes stress.

      If we were to tread the usual path of “yeah, some lawyers are slow and non communicative” .that’s hardly illuminating.

      How many people know that a lender won’t accept multiple titles as security? Did you know this?

      These are concrete examples of how things as part of the process confuse people.

      Have you come across any other articles that have covered such topics before?

      1. Rob Hailstone

        It takes a brave man to take Matt on Peter!

        1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

          I’ve got those horribly familiar feelings like I used to get at school when your teacher writes “must try harder” on the essay you took hours to write.

  4. Tim Higham

    Aside from the lowest standards in the conveyancing market in the last 23years – and no solutions to tackle the culprit (i.e the quality of the actual conveyancer) anywhere to be seem – the new threat to drag the whole property market down even lower is the mediocre estate agent.

    In the last 12 months I have witnessed a dramatic decline in the quality of estate agents, as lower and lower commission rates mean they simply cannot perform their full role, and so drop THE most crucial part……keeping involved during the legal process, helping the lawyers and……the obvious point…..keeping their deal together. They put the deal together after all, and they are the project managers, but so many just give up once they have found a buyer……..too frequently the conveyancers hear nothing at all from them, as too often the estate agents are just so delighted to have found a buyer, and they fail to perform their traditional vetting, and so the buyer can end up a complete time waster.

    Not all agents, or even the majority, and not all conveyancers…though I think the majority in the case of conveyancers sadly.

    Conveyancers and estate agents – get our houses in order. It wont come from outside regulation, nor does anyone else know what to do, as they don’t live and breathe what we do.

  5. Simon Brown at The ESTAS

    I think this is an excellent article Peter. Legal terminology is a real problem. How many of the Waitrose brigade even know what the word ‘conveyancing’ means.

    Unless I’m mistaken no one gets paid until completion so why is there this constant battle between agents and ‘property lawyers’ (easier to understand than ‘conveyancer’).

    1. Rob Hailstone

      I think the quick easy answer Simon is that Property Lawyers are paid to read documents, carry out due diligence for the client and lender, spot and resolve problems, whilst agents are paid to find a buyer and get the sale through. Property Lawyers are often seen as being a barrier to a quick, problem free, transaction.

  6. htsnom79

    From the point of issue of memo of sale to completion, it takes as long to move to a ( for example ) larger house as it does to extend the one you’re leaving, both processes involve multiple component parts coming together and being assembled by a professional in their field to arrive at the desired outcome, it should be that the digital tools outpace the actual tools but…..

  7. Fairfax87

    I don’t always agree with Peter’s views, but full credit to him for writing this balanced, informative article.

    We can’t control many factors at play – lenders requirements getting more onerous, more leasehold transactions, longer chains, customers wanting their cake and eat it, etc etc but we can always co-operate with each other more effectively… agent and lawyer, lawyer and lawyer, and stop trying to score points, be intransigent and unresponsive.

    Also, lawyers, please just pick up the phone and talk to each other on sticky issues, rather than firing letters at each other

  8. beleagueredlandlord58

    Long drawn-out and stressful house buying  is not the vendor or buyers failure to comprehend “industry wording”  neither is it specifically inactivity from the agent, nor bad conveyancing. The actual process is to blame. I could hark back to the reason I believe houses don’t sell in the first place which is not “the price is 10% too high” (anything is only worth what somewhat will pay) what is really happening slowing sales is often as simple as access to money- if borrowing was made easier more buyers would be enabled to buy and completing much quicker.
    The process of having agreed finance should be expedited first- only once in place should an offer be made. Once accepted it would be less stressful and much quicker if both parties are then legally bound to proceed.
    Surely if the vendor had to declare all the obvious (pre-sale survey, HIPS style documentation) and an offer was made on the basis of salient information known in advance so a buyer has had full declaration by the vendor, then if the buyer can only forward an offer if they have a mortgage AIP or other funds in  place, it would be easy to ratify almost immediately.
    Buyer would then have a limited time to perform a buyers survey if own additional survey required (but cannot legally withdraw unless significant different from vendors declared survey) . No Gazumping or Gazundering nor simply changing your mind. There would be a  new legal time-frame to adhere to or you risk losing a 10% ratification sum. Pre-contract deposits and exclusivity agreements are the way to beat the no sale until contracts exchanged dilemma. Stress and procrastination removed.


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