OPINION: Simplify? If only

Russell Quirk
Russell Quirk

The conveyancing sector is not exactly famous for its communication prowess. In fact, most estate agents and consumers have for decades lambasted conveyancers for being somewhat hesitant when it comes to updates on case progress. And to receive a promised call back is the equivalent of finding a Willy Wonka Golden Ticket, it’s that much of a rarity.

The time that it takes to shuffle the necessary paperwork around a desk in order to elicit completion of a property sale from an offer being made is now six weeks longer than it was two years ago, at 24 weeks according to data from GetAgent. Nearly half a year!

To put this into perspective, bloated NHS waiting lists for heart surgery are half that length. You could eat at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner restaurant, the one with the longest waiting list in London, twice. Learn to drive and pass your driving test multiple times. Even jumping off a dinghy and applying for political asylum from UK Government takes less time.

Yes, progressing a home sale from offer to completion is the calendar equivalent of Nims Purja climbing the fourteen highest mountain peaks on the planet. Yet I’d suggest that Nims’ efforts are somewhat more complicated than applying for searches and raising standard enquiries?

‘But it’s because of the stamp duty holiday’, say property lawyers as they scrawl their quills in anger in the comments section below. Transaction volumes did increase significantly this year and with that, so did conveyancers’ revenues. But did they invest in greater resources and tune ytheir operation model in order to account for the uplift in business? No, they maintained the Dickensian status quo and just moaned about how busy they were. Covid challenges adding to their list of excuses for poor performance and lax communication.

Astonishingly, agents and sales progressors at the coal face of the UK property industry tell me in their droves that despite the stamp duty bonanza being no more, nothing has changed nor indeed improved since. In other words, transaction volumes have normalised yet it’s still taking as many months to get a deal through and conveyancers are still not picking up the phone, keeping clients updated or bringing down transaction times. One supposes that the latest excuse will be ‘Omicron’. What will it be thereafter? Climate change? Fears of an asteroid approaching the Earth at warp speed? Come on, just stop with this bulls@*! And take responsibility for the fact that conveyancing is a broken, tired, lazy and uninventive industry that is in more need of a booster than any of us.

The UK conveyancing sector is not fit for purpose. Despite a myriad of communication methods afforded to them these days, conveyancing firms and property solicitors are failing their customers and the estate agents that entrust them with referral work. It’s become a sector that is laughably backward and is the only one that I can think of where service is getting worse in spite of huge advances in technology. Indeed, even the might of PropTech has not yet been able to come to its rescue it seems. I guess that’s because there’s no point installing a turbocharger on a horse.

My view on the state of the conveyancing industry is rather epitomised and reinforced by the behaviour of one of the UK’s largest conveyancing companies in response (or lack of it) to a systems meltdown that has plagued them for two months now.

The outage of Simplify’s IT systems, or a hack, has effectively knocked the business out. The issue itself is probably not Simplify’s fault as such albeit that contingency plans and system back-ups should, you’d imagine, have been designed in and immediately deployed rather than leaving thousands of sellers, buyers and agents dangling helplessly in the air for weeks not able to exchange and or complete on their coveted home sales and purchases.

The point is though that Simplify’s approach to communication, transparency and reassurance typifies the conveyancing sector’s attitude generally in that it has been scant, thoughtless, inefficient and arrogant. With no regard for the human factor at all, seemingly,

Save for a short note on the Simplify website, little has been heard from the company or its management. No social media announcements that I can see. No trade press interview given by Directors by way of explanation nor reassurance. And, incredibly, no press release on the issue, none at all. It’s as if a low-level PR advisor has thought it best to recommend a ‘retreat and hide’ policy rather like that of a celebrity caught with their trousers down. It’s an appalling approach that will serve as a far worse legacy for the Simplify stable of brands for years to come. Agents and clients will remember the handling of the problem as being even worse than the problem itself and frankly, who will want to entrust their referral business to a company that acts in the way that Simplify have. What an utter ****-up, yet totally avoidable.

The correct and professional way to handle this would obviously be to step up, take responsibility, be transparent, maintain ongoing explanation and…. to apologise.  Apart from some ‘regret’ being mentioned in the Simplify website note, there’s been no apology that I can find.

And which itself is rather like any day-to-day problem or obstacle that most conveyancers cause, misjudge or overlook – no responsibility, no dialogue, no apology. It’s typical. Something must change or else we’ll soon be counting transaction times in years, not weeks.

If ever there was a dying, outdated, vulnerable industry to disrupt, it’s surely this one. Let’s hope that as 2022 looms, someone will put their mind to that and truly simplify the process. Yep, the irony of Simplify’s name would be a hoot if it had not caused so much misery to so many of late.

Sorry Simplify, I’m now off your Christmas card list no doubt, however your gift to movers this year has been anxiety, uncertainty and financial hardship. And so, you deserve to be called out.  As does the rest of your sector for being little better.

Russell Quirk is co-founder of property PR specialist ProperPR. The opinions expressed are his own.

 

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25 Comments

  1. Robert_May

    If ever there was a dying, outdated, vulnerable industry to disrupt, it’s surely this one. Nah!  Portals – that’s the vulnerable outdated industry most likely to be disrupted before conveyancing is.

    The King Canutes are now having to defend the Duopoloy and that’s a sign the Duopoly  are calling in  influencers to defend  not only the portals but the service suppliers whose businesses also depend on Rightmove being the way things are done.

    Portals rely on all the things they’ve banged on about since the Nokia 3210 was the biggest selling mobile phone and Window ME was a thing staying the same. That isn’t the case; consumers don’t ‘Ask Jeeves’ these days, they chat to  Google, consumers access the net on mobiles and tablets not desktops, because of that ‘portals’ will be replaced by  property search platforms that put individual agents and branches at the centre of #local  agency rather than a national aggregated everything.

     

    Low listing stock and completions being log jammed is going to put a pressure on the portals long before conveyancers and conveyancing is disrupted. I saw first hand how the MIRAS winter lessened the grip the likes of Northcliffe had on printed property advertising, things never went back to how they were.  The stars are aligning again so portals will either change or be changed.

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    1. aSalesAgent

      Way to change topic and try and deflect the genuine frustrations that 21st century homemovers and other property professionals have with the conveyancing process.

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      1. Robert_May

        Its not changing the topic it is disagreeing with something said and explaining why I disagree.

         

         

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  2. Rob Hailstone

    Maybe you should make your feelings a bit clearer Russell, but unless I am missing something I am beginning to think you aren’t a fan of conveyancers or the conveyancing process?
     
    “shuffle the necessary paperwork around a desk”
    “as they scrawl their quills in anger”
    “they maintained the Dickensian status quo”
    “conveyancing is a broken, tired, lazy and uninventive industry that is in more need of a booster than any of us”
    “The UK conveyancing sector is not fit for purpose” “conveyancing firms and property solicitors are failing their customers”
    “typifies the conveyancing sector’s attitude generally in that it has been scant, thoughtless, inefficient and arrogant”
     
    Have you ever spent any decent length of time in a busy conveyancer’s office, in ordered to qualify you to be quite so vitriolic?
     
    Nice kick in the teeth for many many conveyancers who worked pretty much 24/7 when needed. And a happy Christmas to you also.

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  3. MichaelDay

    As we discussed Russell, I imagine Simplify are currently being dictated to by their PI insurers over. What they can and cannot say and they will be “paranoid” about saying anything that adds fuel to the fire.

    Having said that, the damage now being done to the business (and the industry) by the lack of any comment is significant.

    For all it’s faults, the industry has always relied on trust and integrity and this is being sorely tested here.

    Ironically, Simplify would have seen themselves at the “cutting edge” in Conveyancing technology terms – this is, IMO, still the way forward but clearly security is key (with distributed ledger networks such a coadjute’s blockchain perhaps holding the keys to a secure conduit for transactions) – this will, no doubt, be making the Conveyancing luddites smile wryly over their mince pies this Xmas.

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  4. Manchester Bobby

    As an estate agent I have sympathy with conveyancers the only outdated thing is Mr Quirk!  Why do Property Eye continue to give him a voice.  Happy Christmas to all those hard working solicitors, see you in 2022.

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  5. mattfaizey

    I’m a lot more with Rob here.

    Mr Quirk, I agree with what you’ve written, broadly.

    You’ve offered nothing constructive.

    Lambasting conveyancers is, let’s face it, easy. Calling for the right kind of reform is where the second half of your article should have gone.

    Creating a structured, organised, scheduled and timetabled process is step 1 for the clients.

    Once that it is in we can worry about the attitude of the players. Right now, and for decades those players are on the pitch with no rules. Or at least on the customer service side there’s no rules.

    Change this, and you force a different business model. Change this and the naff conveyancers will fall quickly. The dirt cheap outfits with dirt cheap business models won’t keep up.

    By all means write an article that’s funny lambasting conveyancers. Thanks for the giggle.

    But, Mr Quirk, that you’ve failed to adequately set out what the answer should look like for the affected public makes me think you don’t understand the process well enough to talk about about it.

    If that’s the case then one must question if you should be making comment in quite the vitriolic manner that you have?

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  6. mattfaizey

    Lastly. Do you pay PIE when you write these opinion pieces?

    It’s clear they won’t be paying you.

    So it’s either that they publish you for free, or you contribute?

    Just curious like….

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  7. MarcLansdell

    Like many conveyancers I am as bored of SDLT holidays as I am of Mr Quirk and his utter nonsense. I can only assume that he is paid by PIE per click for his articles which would explain why he is consistently given space to offer up his outdated ramblings on conveyancing practice with no suggestion or any answers on how to fix it. Much like a politician at a cheese and wine event Mr Quirk feels it necessary to base 50% of his article on a figure of “24 weeks” plucked from page 3 of a Google Search when in fact the average by many surveys is between 14-16 weeks. Agreed – still too long but some 2 months quicker than Mr Quirk wants us to believe to give his article any credit.
     
    Rather than pick apart this article I feel it necessary to comment more around it’s timing than anything else. After 12 months of sheer hell at the coal face for conveyancers, at a time where firms and lawyers are winding down for a well earned rest, Mr Quirk has chosen to stick one last dagger in. In an industry that is seeing conveyancers hand in their “quills” by the hundreds due to their mental health and wellbeing we should be promoting the amazing work that has been done under difficult circumstances not dealing one last hammer below before they sit down for their turkey dinners.
     
    Until Mr Quirk gets a grip and truly understand the challenges conveyancers face or even better comes up with some useful non-outdated solutions on how to improve the conveyancing process then his comments are wasted airtime. He really is the Nightmare before Christmas.
     
    I am off now for my well earned rest. Just in case you wondered Russell, no need to shuffle any papers, my paperless desk is already…well paperless. Happy Christmas to you and your family.

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  8. Another Agent

    Average of 60 days from offer to moving in in Australia. (Auction was 45 days). Never gazumped once in over 10 years and zero chains.  System here is THE biggest impediment to buying and selling imho

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  9. NeighSlayer

    Conveyancers weren’t well oiled machines back in the 90’s when I was selling houses.  We mitigated the time exposed to danger by nurturing our local solicitor firms and building relationships with those who would pick up the phone and act with our clients best interests in mind.  If you didn’t pick up the phone the arrival of a persuasive estate agent in the solicitors office with a clutch of files under one arm would often have our daily/weekly updates back on track.

    Chains with out of area solicitors dragging their heels were shown the error of their ways and there was nothing we didn’t know about.

    I guess you might say we created the machine that ensured our pipeline and cash flow were protected.

    Or you could outsource your business to a faceless corp/hub with no means of redress and see what happens?

    What else doesn’t scale well?  I know of at least one person who can answer that.   Anyone?  Anyone?

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  10. PeeBee

    “The correct and professional way to handle this would obviously be to step up, take responsibility, be transparent, maintain ongoing explanation and…. to apologise.”

    I’ll just leave that parked here…

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  11. JustaThought

    No new news here. We all accept that our Conveyancing process is not easy (understatement) but what we need is collective agreement on how we begin to change it.  Simply adding some expensive IT is not the answer.  The starting point is that the consumer has to pay more. Compare the amounts paid to the agent, to the removal companies, SDLT and then how much we pay for the legal process. I have recently paid a valuation fee to a lender for almost as much as I could have got my legal work done.    More money would allow investment in people, IT and reduce the ridiculous numbers of files each conveyancer has to run to just to make a living.
    That said, the time house moves are taking at the moment are not purely down to the lawyers – searches and lenders are all in the mix.  Who is looking at those?   Criticising conveyancers is the low hanging fruit – it’s a much bigger picture than Mr Quirk conveniently alludes to.

     

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  12. Simon Brown ESTAS

    The buying/selling process is way to long in the UK but we’ve all know that for years. Many of the reasons for this are actually out of the hands of conveyancers, relying on third parties to get information back to them before they can process the sale.

    It will be fascinating to here from conveyancers and agents in our panel discussions at our ESTAS Forum in March.

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  13. Rob Hailstone

    A handful of some of the ‘printable’ responses from some of my conveyancing members:
     
      “Unbelievable when in the office at 6.30 am on 23rd December to try and get the last completions through!”
    “Next time someone give him a soapbox I hope he has the good sense to get in it and close the lid rather than on it!”
    “I had the displeasure of meeting this prat once! A real “know it all” whose agency business failed!”
    “Clearly an idiot with no constructive answers clearly has no true knowledge of the industry or it’s pressures.”
    “Come and spend a day with me Russell Quirk if you want a real insight into a real estate lawyer’s life?”
    “It’s a shame when people are so full of their own arrogance, they need to spout unhelpful and unkind nonsense without any authority to make such statements.”
    “He’s definitely on the naughty list – Santa take note, please.”
    “Omg Rob I do hope he gets a quick hard kick up his wotsits how dare he!”  
     
    Russell, you are officially cancelled.
     
    Happy Christmas to all PIE readers.

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    1. PeeBee

      Thanks for sharing, Rob.  Please let your members know that their sentiments are applauded and seconded by many in the Estate Agency profession also…

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  14. mark@solicitorswhocare.co.uk

    “conveyancing firms and property solicitors are failing their customers and the estate agents that entrust them with referral work”

    May sound simplistic Russell but maybe therein lies the problem

    Until estate agents stop referring work to three weeks out of school “conveyancers”, “case handlers” and “conveyancing executives” in return for an even fatter wad than the one that the seller is already paying them then maybe the system will never be fixed.  As a solicitor with 40 years experience I have never paid a referral fee to anyone but a chain is only as long as the weakest link etc

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  15. mattfaizey

    ‘The starting point is that the consumer has to pay more.’

    This attitude is so, so wrong.

    You develop a quality product, put it to market.

    Then you gain custom, offer exemplary service and develop a resellers network and a reputation.

    You’ll then find people have a desire to pay well.

    Once again however we hear ‘pay us more and we’ll do better’.

    A cheap, childish response lacking any business sense and absolutely lacking in empathy for clients.

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  16. David Bridge

    It is not often I am moved to create an account to comment on these things preferring face to face discussion. But in this case to keep it short and sweet and as a conveyancer who knows rather more than he about the tech and issues surrounding Conveyancing I can do no more than refer him to the reply in Pressdram v Arkle.

    To everyone else have a lovely and above all safe Christmas

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    1. PeeBee

      If only, Mr Bridge.  We can but hope…
       
      And the same Christmas wishes to your and yours – and to the EYE audience!

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  17. mark@solicitorswhocare.co.uk

    Nice one David

    Astounded that I’ve not come across it before – it made me chuckle

    Happy Christmas to all

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  18. #ImpressiveConveyancing

    I agree with you about Simplify – a complete fiasco and CLC need disbanding – but otherwise, you clearly know nothing about conveyancing, just another non-conveyancer commenting about what conveyancers need and have been through in the last 2 years.

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  19. JustaThought

    Either Matt Faizey seriously does not understand what is wrong in the world of Conveyancing or he is intentionally poking the dragon. Either way, it is so easy to criticise hard working people from the sidelines not to mention unkind. Where are those good people who are prepared to help at sorting it out?

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    1. PeeBee

      JustaThought

      “Where are those good people who are prepared to help at sorting it out?”

      Dare I suggest there are many willing – and potentially able – to help ‘sorting it out’.  The question is would that help be

      a) readily accepted?

      b) seriously considered?

      c) implemented?

      as previously it has very much been a ‘them and us’ stand-off situation whenever either side has suggested anything to the other.

      Egos and agendas will always get in the way.  Find a way round that so far insurmountable obstruction and you have the collective knowledge and experience to put things in order… on both sides of the fence.

      To you… (credit: Barry Chuckle)

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  20. Stephen Larcombe

    The UK is one of the leading property owning democracies in the world. Democracies like to pass laws. Old democracies have had time to pass many laws.

    Historically land has many different functions. It can be used for agricultural, recreational, industrial or residential purposes or a combination of these. Different uses create different legal approaches, Land can be affected by many different planning constraints. It can be flooded or polluted. It may be subject to numerous different interests. It can be taxed to the hilt.

    So there is the problem. Solicitors don’t make the laws politicians do, and while politicians talk of simplifying home buying, in the same breath, they are wrapping the process in ever more cumbersome red tape.

    Solicitors also act for ‘clients’ not customers, which means that clients interests must always comes first. I am reminded of the song by Coldplay. We give clients what they need not what they want.

    Most solicitors started using word processing in the early 1980s. As a conveyancing locum I have not come across a law firm in recent years without a case management system. Most law firms employ digital dictation and use e-publishers.

    So, I am forced to conclude that this article is nothing more than a cheap diatribe against solicitors, since I simply do not recognise the conveyancing sector you so bitterly criticise.

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