Estate agent pens open letter to the property industry

With homemovers continuing to face severe delays in the time it takes to get a purchase/sale completed, many within the property industry are naturally looking to point the finger.

Increasingly, conveyancers are being blamed for the delays, although many people familiar with the process accept that several factors come from outside of the conveyancing process.

Given that conveyancers and the conveyancing process are often blamed for the resulting delays, EYE recently teamed up with Today’s Conveyancer to poll our respective readerships, with some interesting findings. See below. 

Following on from the work we did on the poll, Today’s Conveyancer reached out to Matthew Baldock, an agent who is quite vocal in his desire for less blaming, less toxicity, and more collaboration between conveyancers and estate agents.

He went on to write “an open letter to estate agents and conveyancers” on their relationship – a further step towards turning the corner narrative-wise – which Today’s Conveyancer has published and invited us to do the same, and so here it is.

 

Matt Baldock, director and co-owner of Charles David Casson Estate Agents, pens an open letter to the property industry: 

If an alien’s only view of earth was via LinkedIn, then they would know nothing about a global pandemic, a war, or the cost of living, but assume that our biggest problem was the terrible relationship between Estate Agent’s and Conveyancers. My timeline seems to be a constant barrage of estate agents calling conveyancers slow and lazy and our legal counterparts calling us thick and impatient.

I say “us” as I am an estate agent. I have been for over 20 years and I’m very proud of it. But before the eye rolling starts, I will say that I don’t have a side in this battle. I think both sides are in the wrong on certain points, but more importantly I know that we all want the same thing, that we need each other and that must learn to work together not only for our sake (financially and mentally), but for the sake of the clients.

In the interests of fairness, I’ll start with my own lot – the estate agents. Now I don’t think anyone will argue that the conveyancing system needs upgrading, it doesn’t seem to have changed at all throughout my career and in the modern world we live in it seems remarkably tech shy.

However, what I’d urge all estate agents to realise is that no one working in conveyancing invented this system. They are no more to blame for the process than any working agent is for the ridiculous “no sale no fee” model some genius lumbered us with many years ago.

Yes, it’s slow and yes, it’s not ideal but conveyancers have to work with this every day so agents throwing their toys out of their pram is of no use whatsoever. The same goes with being busy. Agents – I know it’s been a hectic few years, and you haven’t had as much time off as usual and you’ve been stressed. But, if you apply the logic that for every sale there are two conveyancers then it’s not hard to work out that they have been very busy too.

‘‘They never answer the phone’’ is a complaint I often see. Let’s be honest, if every time you answered the phone it was to hear ‘‘can I have an update’’ from someone who had no clue what they wanted updating on then how keen would you be to take that call? As an industry we need to train our people better and that’s our problem, no one else’s.

A little while ago I put out a video asking conveyancers what information agents could provide to get the transaction off to a smoother start and a quicker end. The answer I got the most was ‘‘the correct names of the clients’’. Agents, I will defend our industry till I’m blue in the face, but what are we saying about ourselves if we cannot get something so basic like a name right.

Lets have some accountability and realise that conveyancers are not completely blameless in this relationship, please. I’m going to dispel a popular myth here – estate agents are not chasing you purely because they need their commission to spend on diesel for the BMW and a night out at the latest wine bar.

Many agents become invested in their clients’ lives, Mr & Mrs Seller comes to us and puts the responsibility of getting them and their family to the next stage of their lives, and many of us do not take that responsibility lightly. So, when we are chasing you it’s not because Next are having a sale on pin stripe suits, but because we are being chased by our clients who are often anxious and worried about what is going on during a very stressful time and this stress transfers to the agent’s shoulders.

As I’ve already mentioned, I understand that an inexperienced agent asking for update can be frustrating, but in the same way that we can’t blame individual conveyancers for the legal system, it’s not the individual agent’s fault that their company hasn’t trained them. A bit of patience and understanding can go a long way.

So, what’s the answer?

Let’s start simple. At the start of every transaction, why don’t we set the tone and boundaries. Pick up the phone, introduce yourselves and explain how you like to work to come up with a plan, (email milestones, weekly catch-up call etc). If you both know the rules of play from the start, then it’s difficult to get into the trap and resulting annoyance of miscommunication.

Secondly, (as I think applies to life in general), lets show some empathy. We are all busy and we are both in industries where the demand seems to be to do more work for less money with every year that passes. But also, let’s just grow up and deal with the fact that neither industry is going anywhere and consider that our lives may actually get better if we work together.

This isn’t even a new issue; I remember posting how glad I was that guns were banned in this country on stamp duty deadline day or we’d have inter industry shoot outs on every high street. The bottom line is it’s proven that arguing gets us nowhere, so why don’t we try the opposite?

Social media is a gift and a curse. It makes it very easy for keyboard warriors to trade insults but conversely, we have never had a tool to help us spread positivity so quickly and so far, and wide to help each other. My personal view is that if you have time to post something negative then you had time to post something helpful.

So, conveyancers, next time an agent says ‘’can’t we just get an indemnity’’, rather than calling them out as a buffoon on LinkedIn try posting what an Indemnity Policy is and when and where it can be used. It’ll take you the same amount of effort and you’ll help agents and look great in the eyes of the public (we seem to forget that potential clients are watching on LinkedIn).

Positive posts actually save you time, as rather than having to defend your comments and get into splinter arguments, you can simply sit back at the end of the day and click “like” on all the compliments you have received.

And Agents – let’s start training our teams properly and make a pledge to at least start getting our clients names right.

Whichever industry you are in, if you work hard to help people move home and guide them through this stressful time of life then I thank you for your work. Try saying that to someone and see how your day changes.

 

To blame conveyancing, or to understand conveyancing? – Results from last week’s polls

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5 Comments

  1. Charlie Lamdin

    A welcome, positive, constructive and refreshing attitude to this problem. Great letter Matt. I think both agents and conveyancers would agree that if both professions began with small steps that would make a big difference, it would greatly benefit both sides and open the way for further progress.

    I was struck by your observation in your LinkedIn video that the number one request from conveyancers to agents was, please provide and spell the clients names correctly. This is the kind of easily achievable step that could go a long way to encouraging some similar positive action from conveyancers (I don’t recall what the number one request from agents is).

    I hope this approach begins to make a difference, as it would be a win, win, win (for movers as well) and nobody loses.

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  2. Bryan Mansell

    Well said Matt

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  3. Adam Hosker

    The open letter asks for more communication, weekly calls and so forth. That is the opposite of what is needed. Everyone in the transaction would appreciate it if you trusted that colleagues would do their job without your incessant pestering.

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  4. Stephen Larcombe

    Matt

    Great open letter.

    But why are conveyancers leaving the law in record numbers? Why has conveyancing become so toxic?After several decades in the law, as a partner, as a consultant and as a locum, I have encountered many different law firm cultures.

    I have also experienced the best and worst of behaviour by estate agents.Sadly I have encountered in the last few years ‘walk outs’ ‘burnouts’ and potential negligence claims. The ‘SDLT Holiday’ was the straw that broke the camel’s back in many cases.Some ‘factory style’ conveyancing firms have become so wrapped up in the language of consumerism, talking about ‘customer experiences’ and ‘customer journeys’, that they have overlooked the fact that most solicitors qualified in order to practise law within an ethical framework. These same firms also often try to dumb down conveyancing, which in turn feeds an unfortunate narrative, that ‘luddite conveyancers’ are standing in the way of a client’s new dream home.The practice of property law is complex, and while digitisation can automate some aspects, it does not resolve many other legal issues. It often does not provide the nuanced advice which is sometimes required.Politicians also put hurdles in the way by spewing out complex laws, which complicate the ownership of property.Huge delays at the Land Registry have meant that many developers have set up flawed conveyancing schemes creating many traps for the unwary.It is often overlooked by many commentators that one claim for negligence can put a small/medium law firm out of business. But still some (but not all) estate agents, as a matter of corporate routine, whip up a storm against conveyancers, even though these hard pressed, and it would seem diminishing number of highly trained professionals, are doing their best to tackle the poisonous cocktail of pressures being put upon them.So, what is needed now is a balanced debate.

    First can the toxicity, which has built up in recent years within the conveyancing matrix, be reduced, to encourage more experienced conveyancers to stay in the sector? Secondly what sensible legislative changes should be made to reduce the huge number of unnecessary laws affecting home ownership?

    So, perhaps there needs to be a greater willingness by Estate Agents to allow conveyancers the time to be professionals. Equally solicitors need to accept, that agents have put together the deals  in the first place and rightly become frustrated when delays occur.

    Lets debate this further. At the end of the day everybody in the sector wants a happy client .

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  5. Rob Hailstone

    It is a topic that will be included in National Conveyancing Week next March Stephen.

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