Honestly, why does conveyancing take SO long? (Four months on average)


It was Michael Gove who famously said “I think that the people of this country have had enough of experts” but when it comes to those expressing opinions about why house buying and selling is so slow, we have to agree.

As a company deep in the muck and bullets of the residential conveyancing front-line, we’re bemused by the opinions expressed by those armchair generals viewing the battle through their rose-tinted telescopes on comfy sofas.

They come from all walks of life – government, trade bodies, consumer watchdogs and even those panel managers that make such an invaluable contribution to the process.

Buying a property is very slow with deals currently taking four months on average to go through, which is frankly ludicrous and much of the responsibility must fall on solicitors.

So why does it take solicitors SO long to do what most people think should be a straightforward process.

Complexity

The problem is that conveyancing is actually quite tricky.

We’d love to reduce the process to a few tick-boxes, but it simply can’t be done.

Firstly, one of the problems we’ve inherited are the failings of the previous generation of lawyers where deals went through on a handshake followed by a sherry down the Dog and Duck and a leisurely round of golf. Mistakes were often ignored or fixed with a few crossings out.

If we had a pound for every lease-plan that does not match the title, even by conservative estimates we’d have over £342.

So why is it, that if mistakes were acceptable for those dusty solicitors of that bygone age, why are solicitors now more cautious and spend so much time and effort having to fix these mistakes.

The answer is simple.

It’s our litigation culture.

It is now very common for people to try and profit from property disputes, which means that we have to be much more careful to protect our clients, the mortgage lender and ourselves.

For example, when one of our clients moved into a flat and subsequently had a baby, a neighbour alleged they had breached the lease which only allowed two “persons” to live there.

We successfully argued that as their child was under 18 they were not a legal “person” but it was highly stressful for our client and shows how difficult people can be.

These days, when neighbours turn up at the door to welcome a new owner, they’re more likely to be brandishing a solicitor’s letter than a basket of muffins.

It’s not just the public that have raised the stakes in the litigation game.

The idea of receiving a letter from a mortgage lender asking about a problem with a recently completed property transaction scares solicitors more than Stephen King’s clown, “Pennywise”.

Solicitors

Whilst the challenge of protecting our clients is extremely time consuming, another key element of delays are solicitors, who often do not do themselves any favours whatsoever.

Ensuring that all the issues that arise in a case are effectively addressed requires organisation, process efficiency and modern, decent technology.

Relying solely on a solicitor to use his experience to overcome issues is simply not practical these days.

Inexperienced conveyancers usually get blamed for slowing the process by asking irrelevant questions and not being pragmatic to the responses they receive.

However, those suffering from too many years in the trenches can be equally difficult – last week an experienced solicitor who we were selling to, refused to accept our certified identification documents because we had not met our clients personally.

Enquiries

Most delays occur at the enquiry stage, and the legal industry really needs to re-examine its approach here. Whilst there are many people involved in finding answers to enquiries, solicitors often will not respond to all enquiries or repeatedly ask the same questions, which causes delay and frustration.

This is due in most part to the atrocious case management systems in use today, with the majority using paper files.

The suggestion that solicitors store these enquiries centrally and electronically, typically receives the same wide-eyed wonderment as a teenager meeting Justin Bieber in the Peckham Aldi.

Caseloads

Finally, the issue of caseloads is simply too big an elephant in the room to ignore.

One of our colleagues came from a firm where he was expected to manage over 300 cases. While this is an extreme example, we regularly interview candidates who are managing over 100 cases from start to finish.

Such high caseloads combined with the constant interruption of the telephone, due mainly to a lack of proactivity, will always slow the process.

These volumes are typically due to the low fees being charged, usually caused through the use of panels, whose business is driven by the need for agents and mortgage brokers to “widen their revenue streams”. Understandable, but frustrating for all involved.

These are just a few of the areas that cause delays in the conveyancing process, so the next time you are getting frustrated about how long a deal takes, be sure to ignore those armchair experts who too often share some attributes with Pennywise; someone who makes even Mr Gove look credible.

  • Peter Ambrose is founder of independent conveyancing firm The Partnership
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32 Comments

  1. ArthurHouse02

    Undoubtedly conveyancing is a huge problem, yes immensely complicated. People bent over by an increase in responsibility, threatened by mortgage lenders lack of willingness to should any of the burned themselves, but many a solicitor/conveyancer could do plenty to speed things up.

    With many firms communication is awful, taking days or weeks to reply to enquiries and refusing to chase them up when pressed. Taking days to reply to emails & insisting on sending correspondence by snail mail. Refusing to speak to estate agents as “that takes up precious time when I could be dealing with paperwork”

    Bottom line here is the process will always take a long and frustrating time, but recommending a good local solicitor can shave weeks off the transaction rather than chasing a £300 referral fee for a bodgit and scarper company based in a warehouse on some industrial estate.

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  2. JonnyBanana43

    Brilliant article.

    The calabre a solicitors is also a complete joke. Most of the “lawyers” under 35 who specialise in convayancing have a 3rd from Luton in “Law”. Anyone with a half decent degree from a proper university goes into commercial or litigation.

    In my opinion the other serious issue is fees – why should they care if they do a speedy & effiecent job if their fee is £700…? They usually get paid this regardless if they complete or not.

    Residential convayancing is seen as a loss leader to generate business elsewhere in law firms.

    Increase fees and start taking it seriously.

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  3. Rob Hailstone

    The lead story in PIE today about fraudulent sellers goes some way to answering Peter’s question!

    I posted the comment below at the end of that story, and apologise for repeating it here, but by working together I believe we can reduce the risk of property fraud.

    Earlier this year the Bold Legal Group put together a ‘Red Flag’ warning list of over 20 situations when the potential ‘fraud alert’ alarm bells should begin ringing. Although the list has been compiled for property lawyers it will, I am sure, also be of use to estate agents.

    The list is not meant to be 100% exhaustive but merely a guidance as to what issues or circumstances, taken alone or together, could point towards a fraudulent transaction taking place.

    If you would like a copy, please email:rh@boldgroup.co.uk

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  4. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

    Beat me to it Rob!

    Yup – it’s a scary world out there and sadly, this case will only serve to slow the process further with many more checks being forced on buyers lawyers now.

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  5. mattfaizey

    Has any conveyancer or solicitor ever managed to write an article, or response that isn’t a whining and moaning session?

    No matter if it’s on here, ‘EAT’ or anywhere else it’s always ‘see how hard we have it’, or ‘we don’t get paid enough’.

    How about stop moaning and provide articles talking of cross-party (that is to say all stakeholders in the process) collaboration and how to acquire better understanding of what goes wrong.

    This article could have talked of all the delays and frustrations not of a conveyancers making. There are many.

    Once again though it’s a whine fest.

    Somewhere there is a solicitor capable of writing a thought provoking article on the actual human and process failings.

    It’ll likely be the first article ever from that side to reference consumer / client anguish, angst, and frustration.

    With every day that passes ever more members of the public suffer the consequences.

    And it is they who suffer the most.

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    1. Rob Hailstone

      I will email you a copy of the 50 page judgement Matt. That might help explain why this one tiny piece of the conveyancing process alone is challenging. Multiply that by 10 or 20 and you might get the whole ‘conveyancing process’ picture. You can then begin to make an informed decision as to whether or not the moans and groans are sometimes justified.

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    2. aSalesAgent

      You should check out some of the many Purplebricks articles on PIE — estate agents love a good whinge too.

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  6. Deequealy

    A lot to be learned from this article:

     

    http://www.propertyindustryeye.com/new-double-quick-transaction-system-shaves-weeks-of-sale-and-purchase/

     

    Why dont all solicitors use online AML checks?

    why hasn’t the government mandated local authorities to make searches available instantly online?

    why don’t Solicitors use Docusign to obtain confirmed instructions

    why don’t Solicitors between them request LPE1 forms immediately a sale is agreed on a leasehold property.

    how many Solicitors measure their own average transaction times and set targets to reduce those averages?

    why don’t Solicitors just build in to their charges the cost of downloading title from Land Registry rather than not doing anything until they receive £6 from the client?

    my guess is that the above solutions could reduce transaction times by 3-4 weeks, reduce waste and improve success rates.

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    1. Tim Higham

      Cant see much saving of time by conveyancers, except 10 days with the £6 point you make. The LPE1 is hard to better manage in the hands of lawyers.

      1. Why don’t all solicitors use online AML checks? They do, but they come with zero guarantees, but they take your money. Also, they do not answer THE fundamental question – is the person whose ID you are checking the person actually instructing you)

      2. Why don’t Solicitors use Docusign to obtain confirmed instructions – irrelevant, as the delay is not signing, but the client prioritising time to spend on turning their attention to whatever the lawyer needs. Some are fast, some slow. Same with electronic signatures by HMLR. Total redherring. We are signed up well in advance of any deadline.

      3. Why don’t Solicitors between them request LPE1 forms immediately a sale is agreed on a leasehold property – you mean the Estate Agent gets their client to have one ready, as lawyers first have to find out the fee, and then get in funds for over £400 too many times, and then pay it.

      4. Why don’t Solicitors just build in to their charges the cost of downloading title from Land Registry rather than not doing anything until they receive £6 from the client? – totally agree, what lawyer waits for such paultry amounts, to start work. Madness.

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      1. Emmersons46

        One of the main issues with Conveyancing is that there are commentators who feel that doing things more quickly is a prerequisite.

        The most important aspect of Conveyancing-because of Government Regulations which apply to Solicitors and Estate Agents-is actually knowing who the client is-and anyone contributing to the purchase price-and checking that the funds are legitimate. This takes time-and regularly involves clarification for the client which often has to be repeated. Online AML checks may well appear to provide comfort but for anyone who has investigated the offering of online AML providers-and who cares about complying with the Regulations-is rightly wary.

        The second most important aspect is to make sure that Title is good. And no, just getting an insurance policy is not the answer because all this is doing is kicking the can down the road-and one day the purchaser as seller may have to spend a load of money sorting out the issue. Better-and cheaper-to get it right first time.

        The third most important aspect is that people should take time to read all the documentation and not just sign on sight.

        This doesn’t mean that one does not appreciate that time is of the essence. But anything done well does take time.

        There are many assumptions made in relation to property transactions which then result in purportedly informed commentary. Precisely why sales do not progress is one such area. The assumption is that only if the lawyers did things more quickly and days are not lost then more sales would progress. It is just as likely that even if the legal process was speeded up that the same number of sales would collapse-just a lot sooner.

        In other words, proper research as to the causes of failed sales is required to address the real issues.

        PS I do not know any conveyancer who does not get money up front from a client to hold on account for potential payments to be able to progress the matter without having to request £6.

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  7. Fairfax87

    Mattfeizey.. i agree !

    Deequealy – good challenges.

    I reckon up to 20 days get lost whilst Solicitors await signed terms of engagement, completion of loads of different paper questionnaires, and a payment on account.    Searches then don’t get ordered until there is a plan to look at (in my opinion, completely unnecessary – the latest tools offered by search providers makes identification very easy, except on new build).

    Yes, customers don’t help themselves by sitting on the paperwork, not handing money over etc, but there has to be a better way…

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    1. aSalesAgent

      20 days?! I’m checking up on draft contract packs and searches within 5 working days.

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  8. Woodentop

    Well done Peter one of the most enjoyable and informative reads this year. Regrettably some armchair experts seem to have missed your point.

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  9. Tim Higham

     

     

    Peter – great article.

     
    Only conveyancers get the fact that conveyancing can be career ending,  yet conveyancers seem able understand the agents’ role, removal men’s roles, and mortgage advisers’. Why not the other way around (obviously I am generalizing, as we work with some seriously good mortgage advisers, estate agents and removal companies).
     
    Conveyancing can indeed be career ending, as what firm would employ a conveyancer with a series of claims, even for innocent wrongdoing. Take today’s Court of Appeal judgement. Would anyone want to be the actual conveyancers involved? Or simply missing a right of access over a ransom strip that now costs the home owners thousands, or not advising a client on a restrictive covenant that grinds their renovation to a halt, costing the lawyer thousands. Or for taking a view on something because of estate agent pressure, and after completion, the mortgage lender challenges and removes the law firm from their panel for all future work.
     
    Can a removal company say they have the same threat, can an estate agent?
     
    SO….can we all first understand what each does, and the career ending risks we all face.
     
    BUT……as anyone who has ever read one of my posts, I cannot tolerate mediocre conveyancing, as to be blunt, it unfairly adds to my own workload, for which I do not get paid. Conveyancing standards are at their lowest in the 20 years I have been in the profession. Improve them and I can then shut up – hooray people say!
     
    So why does it take solicitors SO long to do what most people think should be a straightforward process?
     
    As Peter says above.
     
    BUT ALSO –
     
    The quality of the conveyancer.
     
    No one is tackling that – no round table ‘slap each other on the back but miss the elephant’ group, Association, ‘only win if you pay to enter’ conveyancing award’, or any legal regulator etc.
     
    Instead, we have IT software as some kind of improvement to the industry!? Give a mediocre conveyancer brilliant software, and they are then…a mediocre conveyancer, now with brilliant software. But hey, they can offer electronic signatures!?
     
    As a result profiteering legal businesses are delighted, as that means they can employ an ex-shelf stacker, badge them as a conveyancer, the public won’t think to ask if they have experience, and they charge solicitor rates. Then they throw enormous cash bungs to estate agents, and the marketplace is rife with mediocre.
     
    So today, I am plagued by daft enquiries which need not be raised, and where contracts should have been exchanged weeks ago.
     
    Solution? Fix the actual conveyancer’s own quality and deals will fly, as you have decent conveyancers (who know the law, procedure and have confidence). Job done.
     

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    1. mattfaizey

      ‘Career ending’ ?

      A CPC holder for a moving company can (and some have) go to prison if a fleet vehicle isn’t maintained properly and is involved in a serious accident.

      I’d say that is career ending.

      There are well documented cases of operatives being killed by fork-lift trucks, and even grand pianos. Not too mention maiming and serious injuries from things like falling down stairs, through loft floors or even off balconies.

      And of course being run over by reversing vehicles.

      If one is incompetent, does something stupid, or fails to execute their job correctly then there are consequences. In all professions and walks of life.

      To bleat about the possibility of an ended career in conveyancing because due diligence isn’t carried out….. Seriously? I say this after having just read through the Dreamvar file emailed to me.

      I’ve yet to hear about ‘death by fountain pen’ or a TAform providing a lethal throat level papercut.

      Any career can be permanently ended through a mistake.

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      1. Tim Higham

        My point exactly – you, like so many, can’t / don’t want to/deflect attention from, understanding the role of conveyancers.

        But do tell us the woes of removal companies – although I suspect few would say they tell customers they expect to clear at e.g 10am, failing which there will be a charge of £x per waiting hour……which might however persuade clients to get lawyers to write timings by which completion must happen into the contract………as technically, buyers have until midnight to effect completion (times in contracts are only relevant for interest)

         

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  10. TOZ4

    The conveyancing system has to radically change. The onus to provide all of the information required to complete a purchase has to become the responsibility of the vendor’s solicitor. Furthermore, a property cannot be marketed for sale until the vendor’s solicitor is in possession of all the relevant documentation, which must be updated during marketing where necessary eg a local search. Also, mortgagors must be forced to fully administer an application, even before a suitable property is found, and issue an offer subject to survey. This way the purchasers solicitor will immediatelty recieve title documents, the local search, details of any imporvements and relevant planning consents, building control certificates and or any indemnity policies, answers to enquiries and, in leasehold cases, contact the freeholder regarding a lease extension or renewal, if a short lease, and for a deed of variation if necessary. Have I forgotten anything?

    Once a property is found, the buyer’s solicitor will have everything needed to check through and advise the purchaser accordingly. If satisfied contracts can exchange subject to the lender’s valuation and the buyer’s survey. 

    Job done!!! All delays associated with the gathering of necessary information by slow and or useless solicitors will take place before property can go to market. Chains? Sell first and rent for 6 months. I know this is not perfect but it’s it miles better than the current system.

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  11. smile please

    Some great points above.

    I think what we need to realise is, conveyancers do not want it to change. They are able to hide behind “It takes as long as it takes” line as it suits them.

    If they did start adopting prop tech, and conveyancers did up date working practise. They could no longer hide or have their very comfy 9-5 hour for lunch 5 days a week.

    The honest answer is the conveyancers do not want to change. And the government are putting no pressure on them to change unlike agents.

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  12. aSalesAgent

    Could someone please tell me where the average of four months comes from? I remember there being a RICS-informed white paper about a year or so ago, but I thought it reported the conveyancing process took 12-14 weeks on average.

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  13. mattfaizey

    It did.

    12-14 weeks was the number

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    1. mattfaizey

      Maybe it’s even slower now?
      Perhaps the daily grind, and not being paid enough has caused the process to become even slower.

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  14. Woodentop

    They should lock all stakeholders in a room and throw away the key until a solution is found.

     

    The same stories come and go year after year because each stakeholder is not communicating to make change and there is no leadership which should be coming from Government (fat chance of that). It has to be two decades ago or so, when local authorities were told to get on-line with searches.

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  15. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

    Great to see such feedback.

    Thanks Woodentop for spotting and making the point very well for me!

    This was not a whining and whinging article at all.  It was explaining WHY things take a long time – there was justification in my piece!

    Matt – you are absolutely right – things should be better but there are structural reasons why they can’t happen.  I am more than happy to write an article about why things go wrong – if you read my previous pieces and watch my webinars on RightMove you’ll see that I take a highly pragmatic and grown up approach – indeed Tim and I seem to be lone voices.

    My next column piece will be that article of on human and process failings!

     

     

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    1. aSalesAgent

      I look forward to any suggestions of how we agents can help to speed up the process.

      Just to go back to the title of this article – where can I find the figures that show an average sale takes 4 months? I would like to refer to it when managing the expectation of customers and my directors.

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      1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

        Hi
        I did round it up – it was 16 weeks and it was RICS quoted it last year.  In the past it was 12 weeks and in the last 18 months it has definitely stretched.  I’ll find the source and post it – sorry – sloppy writing on my part.
        In terms of how you can help – check out the RightMove hub because our webinars are there on this exact topic.
        Peter

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  16. mattfaizey

    Hi Peter.

    I very much look forward to reading it.

    I sincerely hope you begin that article with the memorandum of sale. Then end it with the stupidity of exchanging and completing on the same day.

    With a whole end section on late key release

    And yes, I was too hard on your article.

    Matt

     

    P.s if your article blames chaps transfer times for late key release we may fall out!

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    1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

      Ha!!

      The problem is that I’ve only got 800 words !!!

      Don’t talk to me about CHAPS transfers … We have NIGHTMARES with them, but … We also do know that many people hide behind them … 😉

      Next article due June …

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  17. htsnom79

    There’s the slowest link thing for most people, buyer at the base agrees sale, but, two up from them take three weeks to find, next up takes another week to find, this ones empty or occupier will vacate, participants below have been advised not to spend any money until chain is topped, so we start with top of chain day 1 bottom of chain day 28, two different experiences same chain, unless we think everybody ( clients ) should incur costs ( learned friends ) the moment you agree a sale in principle even though it’s got nowhere, and may never get anywhere , for them all to go

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    1. TOZ4

      Chains! just sell and rent ffs.

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  18. thefinalcomment03

    With all due respect, this is a load of ********. This isn’t an issue of litigious doubt. In the past 5 months, I’ve had 4 ‘attended exchanges’ – where contracts have been exchanged in a day or less.

    Its not a question of ‘if’.

    Got rid of the buyer, the seller, both sets of lawyers, the mortgage broker, the lender and the local authority and the problem is solved. Done. 

     

     

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  19. bridget

    I completely understand what Peter is saying and spend a lot of time as an agent/sale progressor being the go between between buyers and sellers trying to explain why their buyer is being so ‘unreasonable’ not accepting the answers his solicitor is providing about extensions etc that were ‘there when they bought the property and therefore nothing to do with them’. I explain it is not the buyer or seller being awkward it is the mortgage company demanding either paperwork or indemnities, and the solicitor protecting themselves from being sued further down the line.

    What I don’t understand however, is that solicitors act completely differently depending if they are acting for the buyer or seller. I have had solicitors telling their clients that they don’t need an indemnity – ‘get your buyers to buy it if they want it’, knowing full well that if they were in the other end of the transaction they would insist to their client that it was the sellers responsibility.

    Given that clients obviously take the advice of the solicitor they are paying, we have these stalement situations, usually when everyone is just on the verge of exchange threatening the whole chain as no one will budge. Could solicitors not be consistent in explaining to their clients that if paperwork is missing they will need an indemnity (for the mortgage company among other reasons), no one is being awkward or unreasonable and decide that in all cases it is either the sellers, buyers or joint responsibility – but stick to the same line with all parties whether buyers or sellers?

    Finally my other grievance with solicitors is they sometimes write things so bluntly, that again they cause animosity between buyers and sellers where none was intended. When I get copied in on emails sometimes I totally understand where the arguments start as they don’t explain properly what their buyer or seller was concerned about but write it in such a way that makes one or other of the parties look so unreasonable. I think if agents were copied in on the enquiries and could talk them through with parties and get logical reasonable answers  which could then be interpreted into legal language it would make a lot of the backward and forward delays between solicitors disappear.

     

     

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    1. Emmersons46

      We are encouraged to be blunt ie speak in clear terms, by the spaghetti soup of Regulators that regulate us ie SRA, LSB and indeed the LeO.
      Our experience is that on occassion the sales progressor adds heat to the situation by saying to the buyer and the seller that they don’t understand why there is “delay” and it would help if both buyer and seller phoned their conveyancer every day (or indeed every hour of every day) to get them to get a move on when in fact the “delay” is simply the time that it takes eg to get searches or for one party’s conveyancer to deal with that particular case amongst all the others. We had one sales progressor tell a colleague that she was a liar when she stated how long Newcastle City Council take to respond to searches. She told our client and the other party we were lying. She then rang Newcastle City Council to tell them to hurry up and was given short shrift. Another sales progressor emailed seller and buyer with a litany of complaints about my firm based upon his observation that the four times he’d rung us that day he’d been given the same response to his query and clearly therefore we weren’t doing anything to progress the matter.
      I think the term “delay” is overused. Delay suggests that someone is not doing something out of choice or omission I remember one client criticising us for the “delay” (his word) between him getting the initial client care letter and terms and conditions and returing them to us signed because we should have just got on with the work whilst waiting for him to return the signed documents and the money we had requested. If he’d read the documents he’d have known why we didnt start work. Is that “delay”?
      There needs to be a deeper understanding of the process as it is in reality amongst estate agents/sales progressors (and less use of the term “delay”) so that clients’ expectations are real and not fanciful. Put another way, if every seller and buyer is told “this could take 4 months” and it takes less time, then everyone looks good and the heat is taken out of the situation.
      I am quite happy for any estate agent to work shadow my colleagues for a day or half a day to understand better what we do and why we do it. Our conveyancing operation is based in Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne.
      In my firm we adopt a Kaizen approach to process design. I recommend it to everyone.

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