Conveyancing market ‘nose-dived’ in final quarter of last year as transactions dwindled

The conveyancing market ‘nose-dived’ in the last quarter of last year, with transactions down 15% compared with the same period in 2018 and down 8% on the previous quarter of last year.

The top 200 conveyancing firms reported a 13% drop in activity, and the largest 1,000 firms reported a 20% drop on the same period the year before.

The data follows the latest Land Registry figures for December, showing a rise in house prices.

These were hailed as a sign of the Boris bounce in media, including yesterday’s Daily Mail front page.

In fact, December’s registrations at the Land Registry would have pre-dated any Boris bounce by weeks, and are most likely to have reflected sales agreed back in September, before the General Election was even called.

The Land Registry’s latest figures also produced little information on transaction levels, but did say that they were down 0.8% across England and Wales in October.

Search Acumen, which tracks the conveyancing market, has now said that in the last three months of last year, transactions dropped to 226,444, down from 267,438 in the same quarter the year before.

Search Acumen also said that the number of active conveyancing firms is now 3,920 – a record low, and down 5% in the last 12 months.

The percentage drop is the equivalent of a quarterly decrease of 41 conveyancing firms.

According to Search Acumen, just 64 firms processed 101-200 transactions a month on average during Q4, down from 94 firms in Q3.

However, smaller or ‘occasional’ conveyancers – those who do just one to five transactions a month – picked up in number from 1,629 to 1,678.

By contrast the top 1,000 firms by number of transactions registered 151,120 cases between them, a 20% drop on the same period the previous year.

Search Acumen said that the “flagging” industry is largely due to political indecision and the “moveable feast” that was Brexit.

It said: “This negatively impacted home buyers and property investors alike, by dampening their appetite and delaying purchasing decisions, before post-election clarity and stability emerged at the very end of the year.”

Andy Sommerville, director of Search Acumen, said: “The curtain call for 2019 couldn’t come soon enough for a conveyancing market which was rocked by political peaks and troughs, prompting several indicators to annual or even record lows in Q4.

“What has come as a surprise is the comeback of smaller conveyancers which gives us hope that the market is not broken from top to bottom, but remains in need of transformation.

“Despite the market slowdown, property buyers and investors have not made a flight to the top but instead continue to work with smaller conveyancers who bring local, well-honed expertise to the table.”

He added: “Getting from a verbal agreement to a completed transaction can still be an excessively complex, drawn out and inefficient.

“Despite the promise of increased technology, the user experience often remains poor and continues to lag behind the advances seen in other sectors.”


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