Solicitors and conveyancers should charge more

When I began my conveyancing career back in the mid-70s, conveyancing fees were, taking into account inflation, much higher than they are now. In fact, if memory serves me right, scale fees were still in existence or not long gone.

Rob Hailstone

From the 1980s onwards conveyancing fees dropped dramatically, to levels that makes one wonder how the work can be completed, expediently, professionally and by practitioners with enough qualifications and experience to do the job.

Many might think that, with the advent of the internet, email, more registered land and case management systems, the process has become easier. In my opinion the opposite is true. If a few tasks have become more streamlined, many more steps are now involved and some previously existing steps have become more complicated and cumbersome.

Over the course of the last 12 months or so, thanks to the extremely busy property market, and in an effort to control workflow, most firms have increased their fees. Some by 50% or more. Again, in my opinion, some are now actually being paid a sum commensurate with the requirements of the job.

It isn’t rocket science to work out that if a firm increases their fees, they can reduce the volume of work. That means that conveyancing practitioners will have more time to devote to their work, their clients and their business contacts.

I believe that over the remainder of this year and beyond, a large number of conveyancers will retrain, retire or simply throw in the towel. A recent survey completed by Today’s Conveyancer into the mental health and well-being of its readers revealed that 49% of conveyancers have seen colleagues leave the profession within the last 6 months because their role was negatively impacting their mental health. Conveyancing as a career, is not very high up the list of jobs that youngsters should consider training for. Long hours, modest pay, responsibility, do not make it a particularly attractive career option.

A substantial increase in professional indemnity insurance premiums later this year is certain. As a result of all these issues, not only will there be fewer conveyancers, there will be fewer firms offering residential conveyancing services.

Iain McKenzie

I therefore urge firms and practitioners to hold their nerve when transaction levels adjust. If they don’t, there will be another race to the bottom. Benefitting no one, including estate agents.

Iain McKenzie, CEO of The Guild of Property Professionals says: “Like estate agents, conveyancers need to be properly rewarded for the work they do. Low fees in any profession or business, usually equates to an inferior service. It would be great to see more conveyancing firms investing in young blood and new technology over the coming months. Love them or loathe them, the last thing we need is dearth of conveyancers and conveyancing firms.”

As Iain implies, if conveyancing firms earn more, they can recruit more, train more and invest in more modern technology. The solution is in their hands, go back to the way it was, scrimping and scraping or strengthen their resolve, hold firm on fees, and have a much brighter future.

Rob Hailstone is founder of the Bold Group, a network of conveyancers

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30 Comments

  1. Property Poke In The Eye

    Can a solictor answer how long it actually takes to deal with a purchase / sale in man hours?  Once we know that then a fair hourly rate needs to be charged by the firm.

    Just by ncreasing fees is not the answer – majority of the solictors just can’t be bothered to use tech of communicate properly.

     

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    1. A W

      Can a *solicitor* answer how long it actually takes to deal with a purchase / sale in man hours?” I can answer this definitively for you…. it depends
       
      The list of “it depends” comes down to: length of the chain, responsiveness of the parties involved, the conveyancers workload, speed of the searches, quality of the documentation provided, questions by curious parties and that’s not even including any legal issues such as easements, restrictions, covenants, accuracy of the plans or title etc…
       
      I mean I am not a solicitor, however even I know that there is a lot of work involved. To off handedly demean (or imply that a whole industry is “lazy”) is not productive in the least. It can be an extremely technical job (and if you’ve ever had an issue with a title deed you know it can actually take months to resolve), and conveyancers deserve our help and support to make things as easy as possible (resulting in a faster resolution).

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  2. mattfaizey

    As with any service or product, a free market decides the value. Increasing the value of the service leads to a willingness from customers to pay more.
    There is a real arrogance in the presumption that customers will simply pay more.
    There are conveyancers out there earning good money. They are the ones for whom reputation precedes and clients seek them out. They are in a minority. We’re in a free market.
    The paying customer decides how much value they place. Broadly, conveyancing needs to gather some humility and answer the question;
    What have we done such that we’re no longer valued, and our clients think we’re not worth paying much for?
    It’s simple business logic. Everybody in business with a healthy bank balance, satisfied customers, a good image, and big grin knows it.
    Or, just keep moaning you’re not earning enough….

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  3. mattfaizey

    On Tuesday – Tamworth in Arden, Warwickshire; At @16:20 our customer (Mrs) started crying. She’d been sat outside the house they wanted to move into for the last 3 hours. Buying their house was their friends. Things were tense as they wouldn’t just ‘give them the keys’. They too had been sat outside in the heat for over three hours. Above our customer the family were due to go to Lichfield. A journey of over 1 hour. This person and their mover were still sat there. Their idiot conveyancer had convinced them not to leave the  property. The cause of this? The conveyancer at the bottom only drew mortgage funds down that morning. Then when funds did move it was 1pm.
    Oh, and they were sent to the wrong account….
    Then the idiots above were happy to go on lunch…..
    Conveyancer number 3 in three chain despite being ordered by their client to serve notice – refused. In the end two movers had had enough and forced (at approaching 5pm) that all goods would go into the repesctive garages…..
    Nobody was allowing anything into the houses…….
    Once again as happens everyday of the week across the country moving day for tens of thousands of the public gets ruined.
    Again, poor moving company employees miss kids bedtimes, and quality family life…. Because conveyancers can’t practice properly, have no empathy and fail miserably to achieve correctly the actual f&£king thing their client desires. A happy move.
    So, no. Forget being paid more. I’d suggest going an asking any of those people from Tuesday if conveyancers should earn more.
    Maybe get out there (every day) and talk to miserable clients, at 4pm, with no access to their new home. Also their moving crew and poll them on how much more conveyancers should be paid?

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    1. Bless You

      Amazing the public stands for it really.

      Most sales are ruined by solicitors still not talking to each other or working part time, or being bitter they aren’t defence lawyers or etcetc.

       

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  4. Rob Hailstone

    It is very difficult to explain to clients the value of conveyancing. Many clients value the service itself, the thousands of client thank you cards etc that conveyancers receive year in and year out proves that. What they don’t know is what monetary value should be placed on it. I (and many others) have tried over the years to explain the importance and complexity of what conveyancers do, and many still don’t get it, or don’t really want to get it (fair enough). Explaining the removal process for example, and as a result its pricing structure, is probably easier.
    I am not assuming (or being arrogant) that people will pay more, but suggesting that if they do, they will get a more bespoke personal service. To answer Property Poke In The Eye, I think maybe 15 – 20 hours, but I am sure those still at the coal face will comment and correct me as the day progresses.
    This article is about a possible lack of conveyancers and conveyancing firms in the near future and how that might negatively affect all involved in the home buying and selling process.
    Let’s try not to get too personal today Matt. We know what how some removers are exploiting the public right now. Stay happy and keep on grinning.

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    1. mattfaizey

      Morning Rob. I’ll point out that at no time have I ever been personal. Playing the man and not the ball isn’t my style. Go check.

      Your logic is correct of course. The problem is that in order to achieve it the delivery has to be the other way around.

      Value & respect has to be earned. If you want the public to have this level of service and pay for it then the service has to be provided first in order to increase the value proposition. You’re asking that the public pay for an empty promise. There is zilch to suggest conveyancing is currently worth more. A service provider has to become worth more in order to charge more. Not just wake up and decide to do so! The paying public will not see value and will not pay it.

      The truth is that conveyancing will need to raise its game across the board. It will then find the exceptional players naturally charge more, standards will rise, service levels will improve and the fees increase.

      It’s basic business logic in a free, competitive market.

      Acknowledging that conveyancing has a massive service level and image problem is step 1. Fix that and you naturally fix earnings.

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  5. smile please

    I have no problem conveyancers charging more as long as they invest in the business not trouser the difference.

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  6. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

    Its not an unreasonable request Rob, and clearly we support anything that makes people’s lives better.

    However.

    There is a fundamental problem with pricing because the price charged frequently does not translate directly to revenue to the  law firm.

    I recently interviewed a candidate running 150 cases, charging £300 a case to the panel manager.  I asked why she didn’t just increase her fees – she said they tried that by increasing them to £350 (!) and the work stopped.

    Its the distribution model that distorts fees and until law firm owners get a grip and source work themselves, then the fee issue ( and hence quality ) will not change.

    That said, supply and demand definitely kicks in, and after this so-called holiday ends, the shortage of property lawyers will definitely push prices up!

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  7. scruffy

    Perhaps reining in or even banning referral fees would help their businesses. Often discussed but still not implemented by NTSEAT.

    One such firm tied to a large agency network has just had to refuse to help a former client due to prioritising that agency’s workload.

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  8. #ImpressiveConveyancing

    The Government need to regulate who is allowed to offer conveyancing.

    Only solicitor firms.

    Here come the thumb down posters – haha

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    1. mattfaizey

      No, Gov need to take notice of how the public define good service versus the rubbish being provided,
      Response times measure in weeks – unnacceptable
      Penalising the client in £ for events the conveyancer causes (ex&comp at small window of time for example) – is a gross con.
      Failing to have completion done for 1pm and destroying moving day for tens of thousands of people every week – unnacceptable.
       
      I am certain there are many, many more that others would add…..
       

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      1. #ImpressiveConveyancing

        Failing to make your petrol polluting vehicles electric – hahah

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  9. jan - byers

    conveyancing is not difficult – it is an admin job

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    1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

      Ummmmmm …. may as well jump in here!

      Just curious as to what you are basing this opinion on!

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    2. Jon

      “conveyancing is not difficult – it is an admin job”. Clueless! Completely clueless! You clearly don’t know one end of a contract from a transfer and really shouldn’t comment on matters you are ignorant in!

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    3. Rob Hailstone

      How long did you do conveyancing for?

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      1. Jon

        Hi Rob, long time no speak, if you mean me, I started in 1985, left in the early 2000’s and moved to the dark side where I qualified as MNAEA, MAPIP and then grandfathered as MARLA. Retired mid 2010’s and moved back into conveyancing initially to help out and now due to ill health, just do admin to help out and keep what’s left of the brain reasonably active!!!

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  10. RetiredConveyancer

    If as many retire from Conveyancing as you predict (as i have indeed done) then demand will outstrip supply and then just PERHAPs fees will stabilise and increase… its only when lawyers think that they need more cases that the price matching and the chase to the lowest fee occurs. As a consumer, why not take advantage of that madness?

    Hate to say it, but lawyers are their worst own enemies in selling themselves short…. estate agents offering their own conveyancing services do a much better job at selling the service.

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  11. conoco9

    I  take it that this is a joke article? Conveyancing should be immediately nationalised. The standard of service, whether they are local or national firms is beyond unacceptable.

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    1. mattfaizey

      Just think how terrible the service would be with strikes ……..

       

      No, you’re right let’s do it

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  12. Mike Stainsby

    I may be on my own here but find It painful to see more of the same mud-slinging during a period of such heightened tensions. I would personally like to see this forum (and others) amended to prevent so many posts from ‘contributors’ using pseudonyms that are not prepared to make inflammatory public comments using their own/real names. Surely these forums are for constructive debate? I see little bridge building going on here.

    That said. Price is a useful tool to turn the tap on and off (in any business) and I suspect that most conveyancing practices tweak pricing quite regularly. I hope when the market cools that there is a resurgence of local conveyancing referrals instigated by the Agent rather than clients simply being sent away to shop on price. There is a ‘compare the market’ mentality with everything these days which should be more ‘you get what you pay for’. Agents that bulk refer business to the firm (or system) that pays the best referral fee have only got themselves to blame if there aren’t any good local conveyancers on their high street anymore.

    Collaborative conveyancing between Agent, client, and law firm coupled with sourcing and compiling data upfront is the solution in my view.

     

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    1. PeeBee

      Mr Stainsby.

      “I would personally like to see this forum (and others) amended to prevent so many posts from ‘contributors’ using pseudonyms that are not prepared to make inflammatory public comments using their own/real names. Surely these forums are for constructive debate?”

      I have posted under the name “PeeBee” on this and other sites for over a decade and a half.  Over that period, many have known my full name – yet a good number of those call me PeeBee when we talk.  It’s who I am – who I have been since I was ‘christened’ it by my late best friend when we were at school together.

      I have said this many times before – I will say it again.  It’s not who says what, it’s what is said that counts.  There are a many people on these pages – and countless others on equally countless sources – who offer their opinions freely and eagerly but who do not crave the attention of people tagging them with that opinion.  Likewise there are many who plaster their persona all over the shop spouting complete twaddle or vile, hateful diatribe just to get their five minutes of notoriety.  I know which I’d rather see.

      When you refer to “inflammatory public comments”, then those to which the comments are directed have a right to respond, or to take action if the comment is defamatory.  “Inflammatory” doesn’t mean untrue.  If the comment is justified – even if it does provoke debate or argument – then I fail to see your issue.

      History is littered with the most insightful comments. People fit their way of life around some of them.  People aspire to live up to those comments.

      It seems one person is responsible for all of them – spread over many centuries.

      Thanks for them all, “anon”… whoever you are.

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  13. Cashe

    As the issue of supposedly useless conveyancers keeps coming up, I might as well re-post my solution: change the system. One conveyancer to act for an entire chain and be responsible to everyone in it. At present conveyancers are allowed by the regulators to act for seller and buyer subject to caveats. So why not aim for them to act for entire chains? Fewer chasing calls, better view as to what`s holding everything up, greater speed, and the avoidance of the sort of shambles described by Matt Faizey at 7.07 are the potential benefits. Sure, there`ll be winners and losers, but individual fear that you may end up on the wrong side of this is no excuse for dodging systemic change which puts the best possible public service front and centre. Rob, before you say it, a response that regulators, lenders, insurers, or whoever wouldn`t wear it, before they`ve even been involved in any dialogue, is not a valid excuse.

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    1. mattfaizey

      That is an exceptionally interesting view/opinion.

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    2. Rob Hailstone

      I broached it with a few brokers/insurers a while back. More chance of Boris re-employing Dominic.

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    3. PeeBee

      Cashe

      “change the system. One conveyancer to act for an entire chain and be responsible to everyone in it.”

      Who chooses the conveyancer?

      What if a chain breaks and then re-forms with another chain with a different conveyancer?

      What if the chosen conveyancer isn’t on one of the lenders’ panel in the chain? Or have suitable PII?

      What if… what if… what if…  Sorry for being a spoilsport – but there are countless scenarios that start with “What if…” that do nothing but bu99er up your ‘solution’.

      A word of warning if I may – a certain eejit once came up with a not-too dissimilar “solution” to fix the housing market and tried to get the industry to tell him what a clever boy he was here on the pages of EYE…

      …it didn’t end well (credit: Louis the alligator)

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  14. Cashe

    Let`s face it. Due to the inertia of/determination to maintain the present system by those who shape how conveyancing is done, this idea will never be properly explored by the conveyancing profession. That amounts to a terrible disservice to both consumers and those who work “at the coal-face” within the industry.

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  15. JustaThought

    Matt

    it may be hard for you to believe but conveyancers have no wish to prolong moves for their clients on completion day – no more than you do.  Oh for the possibility to get all completions done by midday.
    But they are hamstrung by a number of issues beyond their control:

    1 late receipt of mortgage monies where lenders will only release on completion day,

    2 the speed of the banking system. In an era where we can transfer money on our mobile phones within seconds the banks can take hours to get monies across from one solicitors’ bank account to another,

    3 mortgage lenders who insist that until the conveyancer is holding monies necessary to redeem their mortgage keys are not to be released

    4 length of chains – if the client is third or more in the chain then it will be a late completion. In my opinion much more information on this subject should be provided to the client in order to manage their expectations.

    With 30 years experience in the property market and having moved 3 times in 10 years, I have never moved out of one house and into the next on the same day. Pack up in the morning, off to a luxury hotel fir the night. Who cares if keys are released at 5 minutes to 5 pm – I’m in the bar.  Collect keys at 9 am next morning and move in.

    Yes, this option costs but you’re spending a couple hundred thousand on a day which is a one off.
    Why do we persist with this idea that we must move out of one house and into the next on the same day?   There’s a marketing opportunity here for a cute removal firm to change the moving day experience.

    there’s a saying ‘if you keep doing what you’ve always done …’. Perhaps if you can’t change the Conveyancing process ( which sadly I don’t think you can), it’s time to change the way you provide your service.  And this is meant in the most positive way.

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    1. mattfaizey

      Well, we both agree that conveyancing is very much a system unfit for purpose then reading that.

      I’ve already answered all your points on other posts and on blog posts.

      Your ideal is wonderful but wholly impractical for many.

      Effectively saying ‘the process is that woeful you’re better off just planning to be homeless for a night…..’

      Is that really where we are heading?

      The public are to be told ‘yep, it’s that utterly s**t you may as well accept it’ !

      I don’t buy that. I can’t buy that. It would sadden me greatly.

      We can’t keep a system that punishes the public likes this one does though.

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