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Collaboration? Send three and fourpence, we’re going for a dance.

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Remember last year, if someone on an expert panel didn’t mention “collaboration” at least once, you felt a little shortchanged?  The market was booming, buyers were bidding on houses they’d never seen and we were blissfully ignorant of the havoc that Liz and her government mates were about to unleash on the property market.

Wind forward a year, with deals taking longer and clients getting increasingly nervous by mortgage misery stories in the media, things have changed quite a bit.  Sadly, when it comes to the actual house buying and selling process, everything else has stayed pretty much the same.

No surprise there then.

What’s wrong with collaboration?

The last time I mentioned the war, a few readers went all-out Basil Fawlty on me.  But when I see people posting online about collaboration, it just doesn’t feel right.  It raises connotations that, to put it nicely, aren’t exactly positive.  Think Vichy Regime in 1930’s France and you’ll get my drift.

But putting aside the idea that collaboration suggests a subservient group agreeing to co-operate with a dominant power, it actually comes down to interpretation.  Which is where, finally, the three and fourpence comes in.  Remember that lesson we had at school to demonstrate miscommunication – how “send reinforcements, we’re going to advance” was transformed through repeated conversations into “send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance”.

Which is what we’re seeing with the use of the word, collaboration.

Clearly, it makes sense for agents and lawyers to work together – we don’t need lectures on the subject to help us understand that.  However, working together is only useful if it ensures we reach the required end result.  If I organised a neighbourhood get-together to clean up a communal grass area and someone turned up with a socket set, another with a feather duster and the last brought a George Foreman grill, it’s going to be a challenge.  Sure, each tool is useful in its own right, and we know the Immersa Grill Medium, with its easy-clean plates is a godsend after we’ve enjoyed a low-fat sizzling steak extravaganza, but together they won’t get rid of those laughing gas canisters discarded by feckless youths.

Exactly the same is happening in the property market where everyone knows there is a problem with the speed of transactions. While some of the solutions proposed are useful individually, they don’t solve the core issue.

The “Beef Wellington” of the feast

The reasons behind the stubborn refusal of the time to buy and sell property to decrease are  complicated and due to a number of factors combining to cause delays.

There has been a steady drumbeat that improving the onboarding process and obtaining information up front is the answer to the problem.  Although they have an impact, they are merely the “amuse bouche” of the conveyancing feast.  In much the same way that the pantomime villain of local search delivery times regularly shows up, this is a red herring, given the national average is now less than two weeks.

As any experienced agent will tell you, the “Beef Wellington” of the meal is the management of the enquiry process, or the “Black Hole of Conveyancing” as we like to call it;  it’s completely opaque and no-one has any idea of what is going on inside it.  Chances are, the only place the most up to date information is available is from the lawyer running the case.  The evidence will be buried deep inside email trails that take a month of Sundays to decipher.

After looking at 20,000 cases we’ve completed over the last 5 years, we receive an average 30 enquiries per case, although this year, we’ve received 37 – a significant increase of about 25%.  However, addressing the reasons why these numbers are so high is a project that makes the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station development look like an episode of DIY SOS, so we must consign that discussion to the Peepshow’s “Laterbase” for now.

So what needs to happen then?

To speed up transactions, we must understand the problem we are trying to solve.  Which is to enable lawyers to identify and address the gaps in the knowledge about a property to satisfy their clients and their lenders’ requirements.

Sure, information needs to be more easily accessible, whether through trusted property log books or early client disclosure but the key is making use of that data more effectively.

Lawyers will have to work together to standardise their approach to which questions they raise and manage the answers they do, or more likely, do not, receive.

Which is where the “c” word should come into play.  But we can’t mention that, can we?


Peter Ambrose is the owner and Managing Director of The Partnership – a boutique legal provider specialising in the delivery of transparent and ultra-efficient conveyancing services.

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