No-one needs a customer survey to learn that people find moving house stressful.
However, as I’ve said before, no amount of Rimmell Angel Shimmer Peach Pie #531 lipstick is going to give the conveyancing pig “the London look”.
The scale of the challenge is huge and unfortunately, the primary solution of getting information upfront, is, to quote Boris, “a bit like bringing a peashooter to a gunfight.”
As well as being underwhelming in scope, it introduces the potential of unintended consequences. Like in 1996 when AOL’s profanity filter blocked all users from Scunthorpe.
Solving the shortcomings of the conveyancing process, is, like the work itself, a little more tricky than many would have you believe.
The IUD drummer boys need a rest
Articles about conveyancing typically start with one premise. Whether it’s about accelerating the process or reducing fall-throughs, the Information Upfront Drum (IUD) gets wheeled out for a bang. Unfortunately, our data shows that although this offers some benefits like its intimate namesake, most of the trouble tends to be caused by people pulling out at the last minute.
When it was announced that portals had to include more information about a property, Union Jack flags were dug out and people started arranging street parties to celebrate. Sadly, when this turned out to be little more than “whether a property is leasehold” those flags were put away for a more worthy occasion. Although clients often swear blind that “share of freehold” means a flat is not leasehold, it’s a rare occasion indeed when they don’t realise they are buying a flat rather than a house.
When the discussion moves into more sophisticated areas such as revealing title restrictions, this can actually make things worse. This is because their impact ranges from vital to irrelevant. Ask any lawyer worth their salt about their importance and they will reply; “it depends” – the existence of a restriction in itself doesn’t mean it’s a problem.
Which raises a tricky issue.
Providing information up front that a buyer perceives as negative can kill a deal, which is galling, especially if it turns out later to be irrelevant.
Which is not ideal.
Go on then – what’s the answer?
The combination of information upfront and case management can be seen as Conveyancing 1.0, in the same way, that static web pages from 20 years ago are now known as Web 1.0. Yes, a starting point but unrecognisable from the responsiveness and effectiveness of the Facebook and Instagram Web 2.0 generation.
What we actually need is Conveyancing 2.0.
This starts with analysing what lawyers actually do rather than focussing on the perceived problems.
This came to the fore last week in a discussion with a smart optical character recognition software supplier. We looked at a purchase transaction where we had asked “as property is subject to a party wall agreement – please supply this”. The agreement had been mentioned in the Property Information Form (PIF) but had not been included.
This is a classic conveyancing issue – on the surface administrative but legally complex. Before the IUD drummer starts warming up his sticks, yes, this information should have been provided in advance, but it wasn’t. We don’t know why probably the seller had lost it. Yes, the sellers’ lawyer should have gone back to the client before sending over the contract pack, but he didn’t. On the flip side, the buyer’s lawyer may have missed this altogether or misunderstood the potential risks.
Another question from the PIF was whether “the work done by flat 2 in the shared attic affected our property, flat 4?”. This required interpretation as we had to advise our client on the risks involved. If we did not, and there was a problem, then we would be negligent. The information had been made available upfront but required interpretation as it may actually have been irrelevant.
The technology we need to answer these questions is available today – it just needs people to analyse what is required and deploy it.
So where do we go from here?
It’s obvious that interpreting issues where property is concerned is complicated.
Whilst we welcome the developments currently underway, no-one should be under any illusion that they are the start of a long journey, and we should not underestimate the potential risks that these early forays will bring.
The good news is that a number of providers have approached us to help design their Conveyancing 2.0 solutions which is definitely a step in the right direction.
Maybe it’s finally time to consign that Shimmering Peach to the bottom of the makeup bag where it belongs.
Peter Ambrose is founder of conveyancing specialist The Partnership.