Sales memos: No change in 40 years and why are agents so sparing on information?

My series of articles is designed to help blow away myths that seem to be prevalent in our industry.

This article looks at how attention to detail, which I am often told is not a trait of negotiators, can make transactions fly and pipeline conversions more reliable.

If you enjoy cars like I do, you may have enjoyed watching the BBC’s recent live coverage of just how modern-day Minis are put together at Cowley in Oxford.

It proved to me that British car manufacturing is far from dead, and more than anything else, the attention to detail that goes into every model is constant, and exacting.

Another thing that came across to me was that they didn’t build a batch of white cars and then a batch of red ones: each car coming off the production line was being built specifically to order, to satisfy the specific needs of the buyer.

It made me realise just how much information the car industry collects so they can complete the order exactly to the customer’s specification – and it got me thinking about the way we sell properties

When I first started work (over 40 years ago), one of the first things that I learned about was the sales memorandum – and in the last 40 years this form has barely changed.

It is very basic and due to its design it doesn’t require the author to provide the level of detail we need to get cases started quickly.

To put this into context, I am reasonably certain that if I was to pop into my local BMW dealer to buy one of the new 7 Series which costs over £80,000, there would be the need to record a number of very basic things:

They would want to know exactly who I am – and verify my identity.

I think recording my surname only would be unacceptable, particularly if I was Mr Smith.

I guess they would also want to know where I live, and how best to get hold of me. Is it at my home address or elsewhere? And of course take a note of all of my telephone numbers?

After all, they probably want to keep me updated with the car’s ongoing build and delivery date.

As important would be just how much deposit I was going to pay, by when, and how – actually nothing will happen till I have proof that I could pay for the car on delivery.

I can imagine the response if I was to say I was paying with cash, and if instead I had to part exchange my existing car, the salesman would want to establish its value, and whether there is any equity left after having paid off any finance. And what of the balance – how is that being paid?

Not until the salesman is entirely satisfied will the car be ordered, and his signature be applied at the bottom of the form.

By now you can probably guess the initial problems with today’s Sales Memos, and remember it’s these deals that are in your pipeline, and in your exchange predictions.

Let’s be honest, and I don’t need reminding, that in the last 40 years life has changed and agents are now dealing with issues that were rare or not even conceived back in the 1970s.

Back then divorce was less common, and co-habitation was rare. Property bought as a buy-to-let was virtually unheard of and even ‘Right to Buy’ was 15 years in the future.

New flats or houses with a 99-year lease were easy to sell – almost as if it they were freehold – but today anything with a lease dipping below 99 years flags as a problem for mortgage companies as it undoubtedly affects the property’s value.

And with leasehold now representing nearly 30% of transactions, it is very disappointing that the forms and procedures used in the property sector haven’t been updated to reflect the complexity of the information needed for such cases.

I am currently working with a select group of estate agents to try and implement a much more detailed “Transaction Information Document” to provide us with the detailed information we all need – much of which is already known by the agent but rarely finds its way to us.

In my view, collecting and sharing as much detail as possible at the outset of a case could well take a week or two out of the transaction.

Deals would go through more quickly, and the conversion of pipeline would increase substantially. And let’s be honest, if a car sales man can get it right, then so can we.

Sales negotiators handle transactions worth much more than the value of a car, and so if we’re to be praised for raising the standards and reputation of estate agents and conveyancers, then we need to get those devilish details right.

P.S. Last Friday, I heard that Tony Pidgeley of Berkeley Homes still signs off every transaction that his company books. Perhaps other business owners might want to do the same.

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26 Comments

  1. smile please

    I agree as much information as possible on a sales memo. We add more than your average estate agent but could always add more.

    The issue we see time and again though is 1. Conveyancers do not look at the information and act on it. 2. Buyers are liars! – I say that somewhat in jest but the amount of times things change for no reason is frustrating. As an agent if we put something in writing and this is not the case or it changes it leaves us open to a complaint.

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    1. Stephen Hayter

      I appreciate that this is easily said, but going back to my BMW analogy – what would the dealer think if he took delivery of the car only to find that the buyer lied. I sense that the car dealer may do more due diligence, or not even confirm the sale until all of the details are confirmed.

      The fact that many memos come to us with the sellers name being Mr and Mrs Smith, and the buyer’s name as Mr Brown, simply shows that no attention is being paid to what is an important document.

      If the quality improved we may find that more attention is paid to them.

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      1. smile please

        I take your point.

        But in the main convyancers will not even look at sales memos apart from price agreed, name of parties and solicitor on the other side.

        We add pre-agreed moving dates (which are realistic) we add deposit, we add chain details, we add mortgage broker and any items that have been negotiated.

        We do not add clients dates of birth or verified i.d. maybe we could in future.

        Oh and we email it to them on the day the sale is agreed along with an epc and sales details.

        Despite all of that dates are never met and getting updates are like pulling teeth. The attitude of most conveyancers is dire, they seem to have complete contempt for not only the agents but the clients.

        Conveyancers think agents call to get their commission earlier, this is complete twaddle. Agents call to keep the sale on track and make sure it exchanges before an issue occurs that may jepodise the sale.

        I like the fact you are looking at streamlining the process but i still stand by its the attitude of legal executives that needs to change as opposed to information from the agent.

        Put it this way would you believe the information a third party supply or would you still look for clarification from your client?

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        1. wilko

          I have to agree……there are many, many solicitors who work to their own timescale in spite of what information they may, or may not have.

          I agree it’s important to send as much info as possible on the sales memo although It’s folly to think that more info on sales memos will make the vast majority of solicitors motivated to speed up the sales process for their clients and agents alike.

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          1. Polecat 1

            I was a conveyancer for 10 years and agents particulars were like gold to me. I wouldn’t proceed to looking at a set of papers without the details. Absolutely full of clues as to alterations/ extensions etc to a property and any pertinent enquiries to be raised.

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  2. clarky46

    Have to agree with SP and I think we are all concious of putting something in b/w that turns out to be incorrect. We have started to list the chain details with as many contact details as possible but for the agents involved – not the individuals. Is there a DP issue with putting in people’s financial details (amounts of deposit, % LTV etc.) and personal telephone numbers?

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    1. smile please

      I too would be interested to know the DP situation.

      At the moment we send a full disclosed version to the solicitors, names, address numbers, deposits etc

      But to buyer and seller just the names of each party and the road along with items / dates agreed.

      Its a bit of a gray area for us.

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  3. Shelly

    We always verify as much information as we can including chain details as above but the only true thing to speed up transactions is if solicitors were more proactive.  It’s the time taken to raise enquiries, respond to enquires, requests for further info even though it’s sat in their file which takes the time. We have a buyer with no chain buying an empty house 12 weeks on and still no exchange ….. Even though they are existing clients of different partners in the same practice in the same building !

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  4. surreymac

    Fair observation Shelly. It’s not without some justification that the lawyers are known as the sales regression team.

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  5. JMC

    Ah!!..We get to the definitive point!. Yes, lets look and the BMW analogy. THERE IS NO SOLICITOR! If there was, then sales would take longer and files sit on desks ‘waiting for something to happen’ . If I required some information I would e-mail the client and make a follow up phone call, not sit back and think ‘well I’ve done what I can’. And why do enquiries still get asked ‘by post’? Why do searches (done electronically these days?) take so long?…Blood….Boiling!

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  6. jamesBee

    we can and do provide all the info necessary but if the solicitors either don’t read it or chose to ignore it  there’s little point !

    timescales are ignored as if we just made them up for the fun of it when in fact they are often the deal breaker  …if the time scale is un achievable tell us  on day one. PLEASE

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  7. BerksSurreyAgent

    In my experience the issue is with the legal side not what is on the sale memo (but agree there needs to be more information than a lot of agents put down)- I email the sale memo out with the EPC to both solicitors and post with hard copy of the brochure too every time, but I have lost count of the number of times we receive a letter a week or so later asking for the sales brochure and EPC! Do some law firms eat the information we send?

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    1. smile please

      We use to have this issue.

      If its any help, we stopped sending hard copies altogether as you can add a pdf of the sales brochure. We find out the direct email address to the solicitor dealing with the sale also put in the email “hard copies will not be sent”.

      Stopped the ‘Missing Documents’ overnight.

      Unfortuantley still does not help timescales!

      Same as payment, why do solicitors send cheques? pointless, we all have bank accounts and easy to transfer. Even when we provide account details we still receive cheques, must be the only people still using them!

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  8. smile please

    Interesting thread this.

    It looks like agents are open to change and will assist where necessary to make the process simpler and more efficient but solicitors on the whole are offering a consistent below par performance.

    I understand margins have been squeezed for solicitors and many have too many cases on their desk to offer real service. Maybe solicitors should look at increasing fees and invest in staff?

    I think along with investing in headcount the law firms need to look at the personalities of the people they employ. They may have the relevant qualifications but can they build relationships? are they interested in service or box ticking?

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    1. wilko

      “I understand margins have been squeezed for solicitors”…..and that is the real problem. Solicitors should double their fees and provide a decent service. Some have and are doing very well

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  9. WPD

    Along with the memorandum we send to the solicitors, register of title, copy of the lease, ground rent receipt, service charge demand and receipt, EPC, sales particulars – all electronically. I might as well send them a fixture list for the football team I support and a menu from the last restaurant I went to for all the good it does. Anyone who has experience of buying and selling using the notary system as in continental Europe will no doubt confirm that our adversarial, archaic way of property transfer using 2 lawyers who usually end up hating each other’s guts is the worst option. In my experience NOTHING an agent can do will in any realistic way speed the process.

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    1. Stephen Hayter

      Hi WPD, it’s clear that you are doing far more than the vast majority. why not take it offline and drop me an email.

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    2. ammik

      We do very similar. And I’ve lost count of the times we get a letter back asking for the EPC. The real issue is not the content of the memorandum but the idiots, sorry professionals, receiving the information and then doing ****** all with it, and then working in such a way it causes unnecessary distress to buyer and seller alike, not to mention my bottom line. You cannot improve what others cannot be bothered to improve. And why should they? They still get paid regardless of whether it completes or not. We meanwhile…

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  10. sickofpoliticians

    I often wish we could get sales through faster….but I think I will be careful what I wish for. If transactions could be done in 4 weeks instead of 4 months,  we agents would lose much of our usefulness and disappear like the travel agents have.

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    1. smile please

      Interesting comment.

      Never thought of that angle before ….. Maybe we should be looking to thank conveyancers for there poor service ….

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    2. Property Paddy

      You can have an “attended exchange” in a few hours if the searches are present or subject to if there is no chain or mortgage involved.

      I see the future everyone. Yes the view is getting all swirly and misty and as it clears I see……………….  OMG estate agents and conveyancers morphing in to some awful creature. what shall we call this monster from the future?

      Who cares, I wont be walking and breathing on the planet by then (I hope).

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  11. Jacqueline Emmerson

    As the owner of a law firm I do not recognise all of these delays caused by us. I monitor staff case loads constantly and take on extra staff when necessary. Our client care letter states in bold that clients must not agree a completion date. There is a very good reason for this. What you as agents think is a reasonable timescale maybe anything but. We could be dealing with two properties on the same street. One could complete in the expected six/eight week timescale the other could take double that. Which lender our client uses can have an effect. Some will pass through changes on the title etc without a fuss, some will threaten to withdraw their offer. The client may have started out as a cash buyer but a few weeks in is now seeking a mortgage. Or suddenly we are told that a friend or relative is providing funds. Imagine our joy when that person lives overseas. So now we have to have their ID and source of funds verified. These are just a couple of examples which slow down progress on a file. Our staff want to progress their files as fast as possible. We are on fixed fees, usually if a case has taken a long time to complete it has meant a huge amount of extra work. That’s not a very profitable file from our point of view. We have an attitude that we will help an agent where we can. However, don’t overlook client confidentiality. Are we avoiding you because our client doesn’t want you to know they are struggling on the funding front and they don’t want to lose the house. We may be checking mental capacity issues with a doctor. That is confidential information. We may have had to make a fraud report to the authorities. Even our staff can’t be told about that. We can’t move forward until we are given the go ahead, to do so could land us in jail. Then there are agents who do ring us on a sales progression basis. One agent will ring the day after we are instructed to ask what’s happening. How time wasting is that. But not to worry their colleague will ring an hour later and ask the same question? Then there is the agent whose sales progressor is so dangerous that they nearly derail their own sales by giving out misinformation that annoys both seller and buyer. We all know who the good agents are, we also know the appalling ones. Our aim is to do the job right. Our clients are not buying tins of beans here. We also act for their lenders. And to be blunt neither the lender nor our insurer care about your sales progression. They both care about our clients buying a perfect legal title. Forty years ago that may not have been the case but things have definitely changed in our profession. It is damned hard work and for a fraction of the money that an agent makes in the same transaction. It is also high risk work from our insurers point of view.

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    1. smile please

      Thanks for the reply Jacqueline, Nice to hear the other side.

      You raise valid points, but with the service and timescales most agents seem to get the above must be the rule as opposed to the exception.

      Agents believe it or not are not unreasonable people, they understand on some cases there will be a delay and accept that. The issues we have as agents is every case seems to be delayed and the service form the legal executive is not there. Too many hide behind the “It takes as long as it takes” and they also do not chase outstanding information, sometimes people need a nudge. Most (not all) solicitors will send out a letter requesting X and just wait for it to come in. They do not mark their diary to chase within a week or even a month.

      Agents also need meaningful updates, take a look in the “Arena” on this site on a thread i posted yesterday, I asked for a comprehensive update, listed what was important to me and basically got back a response saying “Its all in hand don’t worry” How does that help me?!

      I accept agents can do better, and if Stephen points out in this artical a more comprehensive sales memo would help then i am willing to help, yes will take more time / money on our behalf but if it helps the client and improve the overall service why not. On the other flip of the coin conveyancers need to also look at what they offer and the same way a sales memo has not changed in 40 years most conveyancers attitudes towards service (to the agent and client) has not changed and they need to “Step up”

       

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  12. Jacqueline Emmerson

    Dear Smile Please. Thanks for the reply. On the issue of service we take this very seriously. I wander around the office saying  “how can I help you” . Our staff know that this means they have to try and extract information from the person ringing. Many callers insist on speaking to the fee earner about everything. But our support staff all know the files as well. They can answer many routine enquiries. The more assertive the support staff have become in insisting that they help the better it has become for everyone.

    The other thing I have taught the staff is to think about the process from the client’s point of view. Yes, but if you were the client how do you think you’d be feeling now? This is very powerful.

    We have never become involved in paying large referral fees to agents. You are not legally allowed to add that fee to your own. Therefore referral fees reduce our profit on a file. If £200.00 plus vat goes out in referral fees then you simply couldn’t afford to put senior staff onto the files. That is when firms end up in pile it high churn it through situations. I have interviewed so many times and the reason the fee earner wishes to leave is that they have too many files, are working too many hours and are very very stressed.

    If agents  want referral fees of this nature then service is probably going to be poor. The average charge to a client on a conveyancing file is about £500.00 plus vat in the North. Losing 40% to an agent speaks for itself.

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    1. smile please

      Sounds like you are the exception then Jacqueline, if you do what you say others can learn from you.

      In respect to my staff they only ever ask for the fee earner if the answers are not forth coming or they feel like they are getting ‘Fobbed off’  I think this is the case for most agents, we do not care who we speak to as long as the information is correct, what we are asking for and have a meaningful conversation regarding progress.

      When an agent calls a conveyancer we are usually met with a grumpy individual, we say “Calling in respect of XYZ” with a blunt response of “Yes progressing fine, awaiting replies to inquiries sent on XYZ” Hoping this will appease the agent and send them on their way.

      When the agent then asks more pointed questions “When were searches applied for, have you chased outstanding inquiries, when will you chase, what is outstanding” they get all huffy.

      The reason the agent chases is to get a clear picture where the sale is at and what they can do to help speed up the transaction. I certainly feel conveyancers feel we are just looking to tick a box to say we have put a call in

      It would be foolish to suggest this poor service only comes from conveyancers that pay a fee, yes in general they are worse but this is an industry wide problem.

       

       

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  13. gw0580

    I was about to reply but ‘smile please’ has nailed it!  The quality or accuracy of a form that isn’t used has no bearing on transaction speed.

    The problem is the quality of conveyancing which has diminished massively.  The problem appears to be that conveyancing fees have dropped (or at least not increased) over the years which means that solicitors and conveyancers have had to concentrate on quantity rather than quality.

     

    We’ve had several cases this year (and one very recently) where a new file hasn’t even been touched for 3 weeks… no searches submitted (even though the client had paid for them) and no enquiries raised (even when the draft contract was sent very early on).

    Unfortunately its all too often that the Estate Agent bares the brunt of this from the client though – as we are more front facing than a solicitor sat behind a pile of files!

    Getting back to the point though, we’ve worked with a couple of local solicitors to improve the information we send them, but in all honesty they want the basics and not much more.  I do not think any real solicitor would fully trust the information on a sales memo.  We must remember they are the legal bods who must clarify everything ‘by the book’.  They make their own enquiries and shouldn’t trust what is sent to them on a ‘sales memo’ in any case.

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