Law unto themselves

In this latest opinion piece I take on the question of the conveyancing process and suggest one way that it might be dragged out of the 16th Century and at least into the 20th.

There was a time, back in the 1970’s, that to book a holiday was to run the gauntlet. Hotel, flights, transfers – were all cobbled together separately by a travel agent from a smoky office and the resulting deal was a fragmented one necessitating that the provider of each part of your trip dealt with you separately. There was nothing joined up about it.

The subsequent solution to travel uncertainty and consumer angst was the package holiday and which was eventually accompanied by appropriate legislation to ensure that travellers were protected. The aptly named Package Travel Regulations bound the entire vacation together and made it incumbent upon the tour operator to take responsibility for the whole trip.

This might sound familiar to us property types as it’s rather reminiscent of the home moving process as a hotchpotch of cats to herd, bucks that are passed and tempers frayed. A mish-mash of loose ends and uncoordinated entities – think ‘supply teacher trying to manage an unruly class of 5 year olds all high on pop-tarts’.

Getting a residential property sale through is a battle. The agents in each chain, the conveyancers, mortgage lenders and the respective buyers and sellers all want essentially the same thing, but the process is nonetheless a fight.

The most recent data from says that it takes 144 days to progress a property from listing to completion and this time has increased by 14% in just the last year alone. And these are pre-Covid stats.

One wonders what conveyancers actually do during their typical day? And how that’s changed at all since the revolution of email. Or the telephone.

Because in deference to such technological progress, property lawyers oversee a process that whilst it has always been slow and frustrating and done on a piece-meal, disjointed and consecutive basis, is now slowing to a point that, soon, it will take less time to meet someone, marry them and have a family than it does to buy the house for them to actually live in.

Conveyancing seems a bit like playing pass the parcel in the dark. With drunk people. And with one hand tied behind one’s back. In other words, lots of good intentions but much shouting and arguing too and with little progress made.

The consequence of the procedure being so lethargic is that the parties involved become frustrated. The important people, those that are actually seeking to move home, become stressed and angry. Their agents, desperate for a positive outcome due to the ‘all or nothing’ financial implications, nag, chase, cajole and battle to drag each transaction along from the sidelines – often falling out with the lawyers and the clients too along the way.

For a bunch of elements that all have the same destination in common, it’s understandably felt that agent and client stand united against the obstacle of the conveyancer and their inability to get stuff done, or even to respond. A ridiculous dichotomy – enemies with a common goal.

It’s of some hindrance that the legal side of selling and buying a home still stems from when Henry VIII decided that he needed a wife for every new season. In filling his Hampton Court four-poster with successive conquests he was compelled to extract himself from the straight-up morals of the Catholic Church (yes I know, hilarious irony) and start an alternative which in turn meant getting rid of the monasteries. To do this necessitated a new legal process and so conveyancing was born.

Of course, modern day conveyancing has not progressed much since then and I hear that some of the industry’s traditionalists continue to use quill pens and wax seals.

So now that I have roundly mocked the sloth like nature of property law and struck myself from the Conveyancing Association’s Christmas Party list, what is the solution to the logjam? Or, perhaps at least part of the solution?

Well, waiting for intervention by government with new legislation is pointless. They had other bigger priorities even before Covid-19 and Brexit and so now, as these generational distractions are focussed upon for a while yet, it’s somewhat unlikely that speeding up the sale of detached houses in Aylesbury will be high on Boris’s list of parliamentary priorities. This despite the best intentions of the Home Buying and Selling Group and which I myself sit on.

No, what’s required is to take the thing by the scruff of the neck and to force it to behave. If you now have an image in your head of a stubborn puppy that needs to be schooled and disciplined, hold that thought.

The only way, in the absence of anything legislative forthcoming, is for the party that already does much of the running and problem solving and progression in each transaction to take the reins. The one which actually communicates with the consumer mostly.

Yes, estate agents should take over the conveyancing process ‘as one’. List the home, find a buyer, coordinate the conveyance, liaise, exchange and complete, all under one roof. The epitome of the one-stop-shop cliché. But it’s a cliché for a reason and that’s because one -stop-shops have merit. So say Mr Sainsbury, Mr Marks and Mr Spencer.

If we revisit the opening to this article, I used the travel industry as an example of disparate pieces being tamed together as a package. Why should buying or selling a house be any different? It’s a rather more important and costly experience than taking a week in Magaluf and therefore deserves at least a similar or better level of co-ordinated care and oversight, I reckon.

Ultimately, sellers and buyers could not give a stuff about which conveyancer they use. Each one is unlikely to have Ocado like loyalty – because all that the consumer wants is a smooth, swift and certain sale and, one would venture, the smallest number of touch points and communication obstacles as possible.

I even understand that this is the way that things are done in Scotland and whom clearly emerged from the middle ages more adeptly than we may have thought. North of the border it’s the lawyers that swallowed agents. Yet here I suggest, purely because I’m biased, that the agent becomes principal.

So called ‘Tesco Law’ namely the Legal Services Act allows non-lawyers to own law firms. Some estate agency businesses in England own conveyancers – famously bad ones in my experience (and yours probably) include Countrywide Property Lawyers for instance. Yet, for those of you at the back that are slow, I am not talking about separation here but rather amalgamation.

A conveyancer IN the estate agency business. Part and parcel. Belt and braces. End to end. Can you just imagine the reduction in telephone tag that you would play from there on?

To the consumer, engaging an estate agent should include the legal process too – still regulated of course. We should own it. After all, our clients think we own the whole journey anyway.

Faster transactions. Lower fall through rate. Happier customers.

I can think of over one million reasons each year to do as I am suggesting – but none not to.

Or you could all just carry on like it’s 1979. Or 1579 in fact.


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  1. Rob Hailstone

    I do believe that Russell is perhaps more verbose than most lawyers. It seems like the whole article could be summed up with two questions:
    1. What do conveyancers actually do during their typical day?
    2. Should estate agents take over the conveyancing process ‘as one’? List the home, find a buyer, coordinate the conveyance, liaise, exchange and complete, all under one roof.
    My considered response to both questions would probably be almost as long (and that would be without containing a history lesson or pet training tips). I wonder if the editor of this esteemed magazine would allow me to submit a response that he would consider publishing in the near future? I hope so. In the meantime, I look forward to reading today’s posted comments.

  2. mattfaizey

    Well, you’re 100% right.

    I’m questioning your motives, as not once do you in any heartfelt way talk of public stresses, but you are right nonetheless.

    If you actually have a proper plan rather than solely an opinion – great. I’d invest.

    Conveyancers repeatedly trot out the ‘we’re not paid enough’ defence. However thirty years ago they were at the top of that tree.

    The market finds the price and value.

    The market has spoken.

    Russel, if you are within HBSG then maybe you should get involved with discussions on both banning sim&ex + discussions on mandating a minimum period between ex&comp.

    Those are the first two steps to achieving better service and less stress for the public.

    Then, maybe people who aren’t conveyancers but are well informed on the state of affairs could sit down and define what good service from a conveyancer actually looks like, nay should look like.

    Setting the ball in motion for a definition the public can use to hold their conveyancer to account.

    1. mattfaizey

      An entire chain I was involved with were and are homeless as of Friday.
      Our customer will be interviewed this week as this is what we’re compiling in order to publish.
      Simultaneous ex&comp. At gone 4pm the chain still hadn’t exchanged. Nobody really knew why but what was known is the the soli at the bottom was uncontactable until gone 2pm.
      Each client will be very much out of pocket. With nobody to claim against.

      1. Conveyancer19

        “discussions on both banning sim&ex + discussions on mandating a minimum period between ex&comp.” How are these the first two steps in achieving a better service?!

        Simultaneous exchange and completion is not the norm, and has it’s place in certain situations. Banning this will not improve the conveyancing process.



        1. mattfaizey

          I wish I could upload the audio recording / interview I have just made with a client.

          (And I really do mean ‘just’).

          If you have access to my email or number I will happily send it to you. Or indeed call me on a landline and I’ll play it.

      2. PeeBee

        “An entire chain I was involved with were and are homeless as of Friday.”
        Erm… really?
        No exchange means they still owned their existing homes.  Therefore, they were not homeless.
        Wazzed off, yes.
        EXTREMELY wazzed off in fact, I would imagine, Mr Faizey – but certainly not “homeless”.
        Only ‘winners’ in that situation are the removers.

        1. Retiredandrelaxed

          Best me to it – my thoughts exactly. The whole chain cannot have been homeless without exchange. However, due to the nature of sims, it is almost certain that all the parties had packed up all their belongings, leaving their existing homes empty, ready for the incoming buyer.
          This clearly illustrates the major drawback with sims and explains why, in my admittedly slightly out of date experience, lawyers generally advised against sims. If it goes right, all well and good, but if it goes wrong, it will be the last minute at which it goes wrong and catastrophically so.

          1. mattfaizey

            @R&R, spot on.

            Love the ‘only winners are removers’ comments.

            Naive ‘whataboutism’ at its finest.

            Our client has been living at her son’s all weekend and even this morning has no idea what property she’ll own by the end of the day.

            The system, as implemented is beyond poor

            1. PeeBee

              “Love the ‘only winners are removers’ comments. Naive ‘whataboutism’ at its finest.”
              Really, Mr Faizey?
              Show me, out of ALL of the connected parties in the situation, any single other that could possibly make a gain from the sorry state of affairs that you describe.
              Your own comment is naive ‘dontlookatmeism’ at its finest – which, when the cookie jar is on the floor and you’ve got chocolate all over your chops, doesn’t work well.

              1. mattfaizey

                You’re ignoring the actual issue.

                And talking out of your posterior.

                Having that vehicle come back is far from welcomed.

                Way to go to prove my point

                1. PeeBee

                  You avoid answering the question, Mr Faizey – which speaks volumes.
                  Far from “ignoring the actual issue” in the least, I am instead addressing a completely separate one, which you introduced – albeit full of holes, as part of “the actual issue”.  An issue which in face pretty much ignored the actual issue.
                  I would suggest that the only point I have proved, as you put it, is one rattling around in your mind and hidden from the rest of us, as I cannot imagine for one second that my proving you totally wrong isn’t what you would want me to prove.
                  And on the subject of posteriors, I’ll stop talking out of mine, as you put it, if you take your head even ten percent of the way out of yours.
                  Deal or no deal, Mr Faizey?

                  1. mattfaizey

                    You’re clueless
                    And there’s nothing to prove me wrong on.
                    There is no gain. That’s the point.
                    The poor public get shafted. 
                    Something about which you seem not to care. 
                    Maybe that’s why you need anonymity.

                    1. PeeBee

                      “Something about which you seem not to care.”


                      Only one person clueless here, sunshine.

                      You know nowt.

                      And boy – does it show.

          2. mattfaizey

            It was last minute. The party below us, their crew finally left fully loaded at @6pm. They and their clients had been sat for over 5 hours outside the new house (that wasn’t) 
            They were @2hours travelling from their old house.

  3. Property Poke In The Eye


  4. Conveyancer19

    Interesting idea, perhaps it will be as successful as your online agency model….

  5. Hillofwad71

    What is surprising is that Purplebricks haven’t taken conveyancing services in house .
    They draw revenue from conveyancing  in any event and  their chosen partners feature highly amongst their poor reviews on  Trustpilot

    1. Retiredandrelaxed

      Why take it in house when they are making £399 per case and don’t have the hassle of doing the work?

      1. Hillofwad71

        They  could double that and also danger of referrrals getting legislated against . They have the cash to buy in quality and perhaps it might lead to greater useage  Sharing an office must also  assist in better commuication and service  (in theory)

  6. NeighSlayer

    Most of this article appears to have been written to try and educate the reader about the conveyancing process.

    Think someone has forgotten who they are addressing at PIE.

    Has this beauty been plucked from the training room of your old HQ?  Talk about carry on like days of old.

  7. LondonRealtor

    Interesting (although long) read and responses – I remember those days well in my informative years.

    I have been lucky to have had the opportunity of being a broker in the States, what most people don’t know is that as a broker you are the one responsible for writing and executing the contract, initiating searches and really are the driver in the whole process. Working very closely with what is known as a title company, 30 – 45 day closings are commonplace with financial penalties for not being within contract. So yes we do receive up to 6% sales commission however we do really work for it. It’s not like agreeing a sale and waiting for the cheque to arrive which is the common misconception.


  8. ringi

    If this is not sorted out, people will stop buying and selling property.   Hence if estate agents wish to make money it must be sorted out.

    I fail to understand way the complete process can’t be done with the buyer and seller in the same room in a day.   Maybe estate agents should refuce to list properties until the buyer have produced all paperwork that will be needed for the sale, and present it to the sellers solicitor at time of offer.


    Has the author given any thought to the notion of conflict of interest

    A recipe for one agent ( as now sometimes happens) to be involved in all capacities for everyone in the whole chain – agent, conveyancer, mortgage broker etc

    B***er conflict of interest – think of the profit

    1. mattfaizey

      Might also mean the stakes are higher for the firm.
      Broadly though I’d share your concerns.
      Biggest questions would surround regulation, who they would answer to, and what teeth that entity would have.
      Plus of course if they would actually use those teeth…

  10. Fairfax87

    Quirk, you are a ****.. and an ignorant one too, when it comes to Conveyancing.   Have a look at the Lender’s Handbook and see how many hoops Conveyancers have to jump through in order to obtain the mortgage advance…. every single paragraph of that Handbook designed to cover the lender’s back and put the risk on the Conveyancers and their PII.  See how those requirements and obligations have grown over 30 years… then you will understand why Conveyancing takes time.

    Conveyancers should charge double or more for what they do… It is ridiculously under priced for the time and risk involved.

  11. Conveyancer21

    Little knowledge is a dangerous thing … and so it has been been proven here. Some evidence backed research would have been useful to the readers, unless of course this article was always intended to be a fictional piece !

    Have this advice for free – whilst ignorance is bliss, go and find out what Conveyancing is actually about before commentating from the sidelines, on a game you know such little about and have clearly never played !

  12. Alan Murray

    The standard of the opinion pieces, let alone the standard of the authors, is really going downhill at a rate of knots on this site nowadays.


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