Should agents and conveyancers sign up to better communications between all property professionals?

The recent article by Peter Ambrose (Why most conveyancers are slow and inefficient) was widely commented on. Rosalind has kindly allowed me to add my two pennyworth, so here goes:

Why are (or why does it appear that) most property lawyers are slow and inefficient?

I would argue that the lack of a use of modern technology is not the main, and certainly not the only reason.

For example and as Peter said, on average each transaction involves about 130 documents plus 300 messages and emails with clients, agents and other lawyers. Multiply that by 20, 30 or more transactions and that is a lot of balls to juggle and plates to keep spinning!

I would like to comment on a few statements in Peter’s article. My comments are in italics:

  • Reading a document on screen surely takes as long (if not longer) than reading one manually? If the document has a certain amount of complexity about it, it certainly does for me.
  • “We know a firm who, to save money, bought only two licences for six lawyers, so each had to wait in turn to use the system.” Some conveyancers are unable to charge a fee that is high enough to do the job as efficiently as they (and others) would like every time and some that do lose a chunk of those fees in referral payments.
  • “Most lawyers have no technology solution whatsoever for tracking enquiries.” You don’t need technology if you have a good diary system. Enquiries not back with three or four working days, chase them.
  • “Rifling through a file to see if a local search has been returned.” The rifling is probably not to see if it has been returned but to be able to confirm whether it is clear or not.
  • “I have said it so many times, until the attitudes of solicitors change the process will not, and why would they want it to change its a good little number they have going!” I have yet to find a conveyancer who thinks they have a good little number going. Most work hard long hours for a very average salary.
  • “I’ve never understood the mentality of conveyancers waiting for the contract to order searches when like you said above, they can download a plan for £3 and get on with it.” If you carry out your searches on the basis of your own plan and the contract plan is not identical, or additional land is included, the search fees will have been wasted!

When trying to explain the conveyancing process to a layman I have always said that exchanging a chain of eight properties is like putting eight medium sized jigsaws together (i.e. the pre exchange process) in order for those eight medium sized jigsaws to make one large jigsaw (i.e. when all of the parties are actually ready to exchange).

Back in the 70s and 80s those medium sized jigsaws could contain, say 50 or so pieces each.

However, those individual jigsaws can now contain over 100 pieces each, and it only takes one small piece to be missing to hold the whole chain up.

Over the last 20 years, more and more responsibility and tasks have been placed on the conveyancer.

As a result many of the good experienced ones have retired or moved on. Those that are left struggle, especially when interrupted a number of times a day by clients, brokers, and agents.

And yes, many conveyancers are scared of “getting it wrong” or being fooled by a fraudulent client, because if they do, the consequences are severe. Sometimes for the firm, fatal.

You can have the best technology and worst conveyancer or no technology and the best conveyancer and matters would probably proceed at a similar pace.

It’s not rocket science and we have been there before but get the seller to instruct their conveyancer when the property is first marketed.

That way, when a buyer has been found a complete contract pack can be sent to the buyer’s conveyancer on day one. Thereby reducing most delays (including submitting searches) drastically.

It was only last month that a Joint Memorandum on Improving Communications between the Professions was released by The Law Society of Northern Ireland:

https://www.lawsoc-ni.org/DatabaseDocs/med_3599445__joint_memorandum_lawrcisnaea.pdf

Whilst the Northern Ireland memorandum is not a ‘game changer’, maybe we should work on producing our own memorandum?

I am happy to get the ball rolling if anyone wants to also get involved?

* Rob Hailstone is founder of The Bold Group, an association of independent conveyancing businesses

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30 Comments

  1. smile please

    Forgive me but I think this sums up the attitude of conveyancers perfectly.

    Unable to take on board the frustrations of agents and clients.

    Rather than accept they have a problem they look to justify the often poor service they deliver.

    It’s not often the speed of contract packs going out that is the issue. More often than not it is the length of time to review and raise enquiries.

    The average is now 16 weeks from sale agreed to exchange. 4 months!

    As an estate agent I get embarrassed and get fed up making excuses with “Well it’s a flawed system”

    The most frustrating part is it’s us the estate agents getting it in the neck for the slow, reactive, below par service the conveyancers provide.

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    1. Paulfromromsey87

      I wonder how quickly the 16 week average would come down to say 8 or 10 if all solicitors/conveyancers worked, like agents, on a no-sale no-fee basis?

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  2. Rob Hailstone

    Not sure where I imply that I don’t take on board the frustrations of agents and clients? I admit that the system is flawed, I admit that some conveyancers are slow etc and I have admitted that there are far too many who simply dabble. After 40 plus years I am trying to explain why, in my opinion, things are worse than they where in the 70s and 80s. A process that worked reasonably well then does not work well now, for a number of reasons. 40 plus years of agents blaming conveyancers and vice versa is more than enough. It is time we moved on, constructively.

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    1. smile please

      But their lies the problem it’s very seldom the case you can blame the agent.

      As you have said not much has changed in 40 odd years regarding process. Conveyancers ask a high amount of enquires and some are just not needed. Standard enquires should be banned. Otherwise you can be waiting for response when not needed.

      Given it is now 2018 why are conveyancers not working Saturday’s? Argument to say as no completions and they can actually speak to their clients.

      Why do they still take an hour for lunch?

      Why do the majority close at 5pm?

      Why can they not take a reduction in income and invest in more staff?

      As I said previously they have it too good and do not want to change.

      I believe most still think it is the 70/80s in terms of service and expectations which is why quite frankly the majority of agents and their clients have an issue with the conveyancing world.

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      1. NewsBoy

        To be fair the solicitors we use – we don’t use conveyancers – start at 6.15 am and do close at 5.30. They will ALWAYS return an e-mail or call and are available, out of hours, on their mobiles when needed – just like agents. I’m afraid the large “Factory” conveyancers charge less, give half their fee away to the introducing agents and, quite fairly, provide a service to match. There are good factory conveyancers but they are few and far between in the same way as there are very good and very poor local solicitors and conveyancers. I’m going to stick with the very best and leave others to drown in the factory conveyancing process.

        We just had to deal with a chain including two call centre conveyancers and two call centre agents in a chain of 4. We eventually persuaded the sellers to look elsewhere for a new buyer, which they did, to good result.

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        1. smile please

          That’s the problem Newsboy,

          There are some good conveyancers / solicitors out there but the bad far outway the good which is why we have this problem.

          The chap we recommend, always takes a call, does his best but not all clients take our recommendation, and more often than not there are chains involved with dire solicitors / conveyancers involved.

          Lets remove the factory firms like PPL or CCS because they are a completely different brand of c**p.

          There are still hundreds if not thousands of practicing individuals who are simple devoid of any level of urgency or service.

          I will give you a prime example (i have so many i could write a book!) We have a sale going through, just before exchange the conveyancer decides to close their practice. Passes his cases to another firm (full firm of solicitors) The individual dealing with the case now says they want to do a full review of the purchase and report to the client before exchange (fair enough) apart from its been over a month!!! – Despite the purchaser calling to exchange, despite the other side pushing the solicitor has still not reviewed the file! (oh and they are charging the client more than the previous conveyancer!).

          Its a joke. the majority of the conveyancing world has no interest in service or timescales. They forget peoples lives are effected by their actions (or lack of them).

           

           

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          1. Emmersons46

            I have the answer. Those agents who know how to do it better should set up an ABS, employ some conveyancers and Solicitors, invest in the necessary infrastructure, comply with the requirements of PII and Code of Conduct, appoint your COLP and COFA, learn and apply the money laundering regulations and create a brand new model of efficiency which the rest can follow. If it’s as easy as some believe and only requires desire to do the job quicker then instead of talking about it-do it!

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    2. CountryLass

      I would say that the reason the system is flawed is because it hasn’t changed in 40+ years. Therefore it hasn’t kept up with technology, it hasn’t kept up with the changing needs and wants of its clients. Even an online tick-and-date box update would be better than nothing! ID and instructions received? Tick. (24/07/2018) Contract issued? Tick (26/07/2018) Enquiries Received No tick. Fine, thinks the Agent, I’ll give the other sides solicitor a call, surely they have received it now, I wonder what the hold up with enquiries are?

      Add to that the “nothing is going to happen between 1-2pm as everyone is on lunch” idea. Seriously? Who though it was a good plan for the whole company to close for an hour? This isn’t Spain, we don’t need to be out of the sun! (OK, not a valid argument at the moment I’ll admit!). Can you imagine what would happen if we all decided to close between 12-1 for lunch?? We would get ripped to shreds, and deservedly so! Stagger lunch breaks. It’s not rocket science!

       

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  3. Fairfax87

    I said:

    “I’ve never understood the mentality of conveyancers waiting for the contract to order searches when like you said above, they can download a plan for £3 and get on with it.”

    Rob, you said

    If you carry out your searches on the basis of your own plan and the contract plan is not identical, or additional land is included, the search fees will have been wasted!

    Your response absolutely articulates what is wrong with Conveyancers in general – you find the “one in ten thousand” risk and use that as the excuse not to order searches pro-actively upfront.  Consider this:

    – I guess 95% or more of transactions are based on the registered filed plan – very few (apart from new build) will be different

    – If the plan does differ, most pro-active search companies will simply re-publish the search results, based on the new plan, at no extra cost. If your search provider won’t, you need to find a new one.

    – Lawyers are obsessed with the plan attached to the searches – when in fact the most important identifier is the red dot – this is what drives the search results.

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  4. Rob Hailstone

    Smile, my replies to your comments/questions are set out below:

    But their lies the problem it’s very seldom the case you can blame the agent.

    I am not going to get involved in that argument. Not the purpose of my article, tit for tat discussions.

    As you have said not much has changed in 40 odd years regarding process. Conveyancers ask a high amount of enquires and some are just not needed. Standard enquires should be banned. Otherwise you can be waiting for response when not needed.

    What are your legal qualifications for deciding which enquiries are needed or not? If you can safely reduce the number or enquiries raised by conveyancers I am sure many would thank and applaud you.

    Given it is now 2018 why are conveyancers not working Saturday’s? Argument to say as no completions and they can actually speak to their clients.

    Many work saturdays (and Sundays) as I did. Did I tell the agents, of course not (well only the handful of good ones I worked with), they would be trying to get hold of me and interrupt me, again.

    Why do they still take an hour for lunch?

    Maybe because many start work at 7.00 am or earlier. In fact, many work their lunch hour with the phones off, again without interruption.

    Why do the majority close at 5pm?

    Many don’t, they just hide behind closed doors in order to crack on (quietly) with the sometimes complicated and detailed work they are paid to do.

    Why can they not take a reduction in income and invest in more staff?

    Because,in many cases the profits earned via residential conveyancing is not great.

    As I said previously they have it too good and do not want to change.

    Absolute complete and utter tosh. This comment alone shows exactly how little you understand (or want to understand) about the day to day role of a conveyancer.

    I believe most still think it is the 70/80s in terms of service and expectations which is why quite frankly the majority of agents and their clients have an issue with the conveyancing world.

    You have added nothing to my attempts at building some bridges.

    Paulfromromsey87

    Some conveyancers offer a no sale no fee service, the majority are on a fixed fee and have no desire at all to prolong a transaction.

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    1. smile please

      Rob, Your responses shows exactly why we have the problems we do.
       
      Most agents today email sales memos, property details and an EPC on the day or day after a property is sales agreed (even sending it direct to the person dealing with it) Conveyancers do not even send an email to acknowledge receipt and that they are waiting for formal instructions. 
       
      I think reading between the lines your answer for a soloution is, “leave us alone, we know best, it takes as long as it takes.”
       

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      1. Rob Hailstone

        I’m not saying that is the whole solution (and would never say “we know best”). What am saying is though, the fewer interuptions one gets the more the legal work can be done expeditiously. That is common sense and true about any endeavour, surely?

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        1. smile please

          Estate agents, sell property, list property, speak with sellers and buyers alike, cross sell products and still find time to sales chase.

           

          I think on the whole, estate agents just understand the concept of service better.

           

          I would love for nobody to call me asking why we have not yet exchanged but lets be honest, its not practical when you value service.

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  5. Rob Hailstone

    There may be some logic in what you say Fairfax87. That is why I am suggesting we think about producing our own memorandum?

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    1. smile please

      Whats the point? – We speak with all parties at the start of a sale and agree realistic timescales for exchange and completion, we put them on the memos and conveyancers take no notice of them!
      Its just more form filling and box ticking that conveyancers seemed obsessed by as they think it leads to a better service. Same as the god awful online updates that are pointless.

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  6. Jacqueline Emmerson

    Perhaps those agents who continue to bash solicitors should work in a Conveyancing office for a week. You will see staff who work extremely hard, who have the requirements of the Law Society, Solicitors Regulation Authority and  Lenders to comply with. I will not let any matter complete in our office until the plans are correct. Years ago we had a solicitor who didn’t check the plans with the client on two files. Result massive insurance claims when the client discovered they hadn’t got what they paid for. Result for me, massive rise in my indemnity insurance which involved having to re-mortgage my house. You have no idea how tight the requirements of the lenders are. That’s my indemnity insurance on the line. It’s also my living and the living of those employed in every other department in our firm who have nothing to do with conveyancing.

    ‘Clients are not buying a can of beans. They are making a very expensive purchase. Our job is to get the the legal title right. If that takes a couple of weeks more then so be it, we are there to protect our client and no one else.

    Dont forget, agents are not our clients and we don’t have answer any questions about the files at all. There is no other area of law where a non client feels that they have the right to question what is happening on one of our client’s files. The Law Society impress upon us the need for client confidentiality.

    ‘Our phones are switched on at nine and switched off at five. Our staff are often in the office from 7.30am to 7pm. Some come in early, some leave late. They have to work these extra hours to avoid the phone calls and to catch up on their work having answered phone calls throughout the day.

    There is nothing that Rob Hailstone or I can say that will stop the lawyer bashing, again I extend an invitation. Come and work in our office for a week and see what it’s really like.

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    1. smile please

      I take on board your comments and nobody likes their profession to be bashed, myself included.
       
      But as agents we are not asking conveyancers to re-invent the wheel, we are just asking for a more proactive attitude and to turn things around quicker.
       
      With so much technology and forms of communication, there really is no excuse for a 16 week average turn around. 
       

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      1. Emmersons46

        Maybe 16 weeks is the realistic timescale and what estate agents, buyers and sellers “want” it to be is unrealistic. 

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    2. aSalesAgent

      Totally appreciate that conveyancers have a very important job and that there can be dire consequences for getting something wrong – but the frustration comes from the speed in which their job is carried out. For example, why does it take me getting involved before a buyers’ solicitor realises they received replies to enquiries a week prior to my calling and emailing? Why does it take days/weeks for a sellers’ solicitor to forward enquiries to the seller for a response? Why is it sometimes the case that no-one else within the firm can progress or exchange a file until the fee-earner returns from their holiday?

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      1. Emmersons46

        Come and work in our office and find out. If you don’t know the answers to these questions it suggests to me you haven’t actually tried to find out and you assume everything can be done quicker.
        There’s no spare time and each client is given the same level of service is the obvious answer.

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        1. aSalesAgent

          If it honestly takes that long in your office and it’s because, as you say, there is not enough time to deal with matters as they arise, shouldn’t you employ more staff (or take on fewer clients) so each client gets a better level of service? I am sure you would have happier clients leaving reviews and more agents recommending business.

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  7. aSalesAgent

    1) The Law Society removes the ‘specimen’ watermark from their standardised TA forms (https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/advice/articles/ta-form-specimens/ ) (I can think of no good reason for this barrier);

    2) create a ‘selling-pack’ consisting of TA forms, an authority to release title deeds doc, proof of identification doc, sale questionnaire/instruction doc, list of standard enquiries, etc;

    3) make this ‘selling-pack’ available online for vendors to download anytime. Agents will then encourage vendors to fill in all of these documents whilst their property is being marketed, before a buyer is found;

    4) vendor passes the duly completed ‘selling-pack’ to their solicitor once an offer has been accepted.

    Should save a week-or-two on some sales.

    And to answer the question in the title, should agents and conveyancers sign up to better communications between all property professionals? — YES! If conveyancers sent an automatated email when they were formally instructed, when they had submitted searches, when the local authority search was received (often the last search to be returned in my area), when the mortgage offer was in and what enquiries had been raised with the vendor’s solicitor, then I and many other agents would have no reason to keep phoning and emailing conveyancers to check a sale was actually proceeding in a timely fashion.

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    1. Rob Hailstone

      This is exactly what my Hip production company was doing 10 years ago. Getting the (virtually pointless) Government pack produced asap, so the property could be marketed. Then getting the seller’s conveyancer instructed and adding all of the above (and more) whilst the property was being marketed. Exchange ready pack available, online, accessible to agent, buyer and buyer’s conveyancer as and when needed. It wasn’t, and isn’t rocket science. The more you do before a buyer is found the quicker the transaction can proceed.

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    2. Tim Higham

      All a little muddled, but it raises:

      1. The public dont usually instruct lawyers at the same time as their estate agent so we cant prepare a pack, so it needs to be mandatory….then we can do a pack.

      2. Conveyancers updating Agents througout? Total waste of time if the Agent doesnt do anything with that info….and i say this as more and more agents stop involvement pist offer agreed. That lack of their interest in the legals needs improving, as the deal belongs to the Agent. It’s their baby….so stay involved to properly deserve that commission! It helps us conveyancers as you can chase other lawyers and slow clients on both sides.

      (Oddly, ZERO estate agents update conveyancers instructed at the same time as estate agents.

      AND we dont do automared anything. We personally involve agents with detailed updates, usually a cc to the one we give to clients pre-weekend, and when we chase the other lawyers for what we need/they need to do. Agents/clients love it.)

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  8. johnclay

    I totally agree with Rob.  I sold my conveyancing practice three years ago as I could not provide a good service at a competitive price.  I have always used the latest technology and case management software, which helps but does not overcome the complexity.  Conveyancers do not control the time taken to complete the process; they are dependent upon agents, clients , lenders, local authorities, and search providers, any one of which can derail or delay the process.  To blame conveyancers for delays is like blaming a taxi driver for the time it takes to get from Kensington to Trafalgar Square.

    The process needs a complete overhaul, but unfortunately it needs all the above to cooperate.  Conveyancers are trying to improve the process by responding to the Government consultations, but I’m not sure if anyone else is.

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  9. Rob Hailstone

    Well despite all of the negativity, I will take the Northern Ireland Memorandum and (over the rest of the summer months) see if I can start putting one together. I will obviously need help from the other stakeholders. Any willing volunteers please let me know: rh@boldgroup.co.uk

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  10. Commentator91

    Come on guys, Rob is offering an olive branch here, and by the looks of it no estate agent has yet offered to help him in this project!

    Both sides need to work together so that both sides will win from this collaboration…

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  11. Tim Higham

    Spot on as always Rob.

    The comemnts from some (smile please and fairfax87) just show that any changes to the conveyancing process must ONLY come from conveyancers as no one else knows the process even remotely close enough, obviously.

    Keep the articles/posts coming Rob.

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  12. mattfaizey

    Rob (Hi).

    A lot of the attempts to understand the issues focus on finding a ‘fix’. As though a change to format, or technical issues will solve the problem.

    I’ve held more than twenty thousand conversations with members of the public going through the process.

    The complaints and frustrations come down to expectations, and the lack of direction for where things are at, what happens next and why nobody knows eff all.

    Then there is the issue of poor information at the early stages. Leading to quickly frustrated clients.

    Couple that to the vacuums that open up within a chain where people insert their own ideas and speculation and you very quickly arrive at the moment where by a party pulls out.

    The actual issues are too complex to succinctly put here. They are however rooted in two points,

    1) no protocols mandate timeframe, moreover no actual, right, and client focused code of practice exists for conveyancers/solicitors. That would effectively allow the public to decide what is, and isn’t acceptable.

    2) the continuing manipulation by EA’s staff of chains and the building of up clients hopes either to feather commission nests (I have some sympathy as it can’t be easy for many EA’s right now) or simply to try to justify daft promises made early on.

    I could, can justify the above with hundreds of examples we have on file.

    To solve this the issue needs to be looked at with empathy from the clients point of view.

    Yet again though, a thread and ideal presented to solve issues doesn’t once reference those who suffer – the clients!

    These threads come and go. Very good intentions come and go, but hardly ever does anyone actually cite examples of client suffering. This means it’s either too embarrassing / painful to admit to, or, even worse…..

    Those within, and responsible fail to see it.

     

    ETA, 8 weeks of ****** awful and stressful service is NOT better than 14 weeks of great service and a brilliant relationship.

    Peeps here are looking in the wrong place

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    1. Jacqueline Emmerson

      I agree with your point about excellent service. Case management systems can only speed things up so much and they are very system driven. I always ask our staff to look at the process from the client’s point of view. What does this look like or feel like for the client. We send out a first time buyers guide, this has cut down hugely on phone calls from clients to the office as they feel better informed. We also have support staff able to answer questions on the files as they work on them every day. That way the fee earners can get on with the legal side of the files.

      On another note, I’d much rather wait 12-14 weeks to move. I have three kids and the thought of having to pack up our house and arrange everything within 6-8 weeks would completely overwhelm me. Like many parents I go to work and also spend a good proportion of my time taxi driving for the kids. This doesn’t leave a lot of time to pack up a life in order to move.

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