Given that government figures show deals take on average 19 weeks to go through with about 35% failing, there is now much more emphasis on sales progression. Agents need to understand much more about the legal aspects of house buying and this becomes difficult where there is a chain of transactions.
The key challenges of progression
Agents are faced with the challenge of determining the progress of part of the chain as it involves different lawyers each using their own unique approaches.
Although progress can be measured by simple milestones such as whether a contract pack has been received or searches have been ordered, a key problem that remains unsolved is enquiry handling. There is no standard approach to the process carried out by the buyer, and the responses they receive may be incomplete or unsatisfactory. An example is where an agent is told that “all enquiries have been responded to” but this does not mean the responses are complete or acceptable to the buyer.
Understanding what issues should and should not be chased up, can be problematic. For example, when selling a property for which the correct permission for alteration work was not gained, it is quickest for the seller’s lawyer to buy indemnity insurance. In such circumstances, the local authority must not be contacted, but agents (and clients) have been known to do this, which then means the insurance option is not possible, slowing the process further.
A common misconception is that lawyers are not allowed to speak to anyone else in the chain. This is not the case, and in recent years there has been a shift in mind-set amongst some lawyers in their efforts to get deals through.
Lawyers can talk to any other lawyer involved in the deal – it is just the other clients that they are not allowed to speak with. However, the problem is that there are still too many lawyers that do not like doing this, and this is why the agent is typically in the best position to do this work.
Can technology help?
Every few months there are announcements of the “next great thing” when it comes to technological advancements in conveyancing communication. However, typically this software development work is carried out in isolation rather than with lawyers, which results in inflexible solutions that fail to address the real-world issues that are faced by agents and lawyers.
The fundamental problem is that a transaction can only move as fast as the slowest part of the chain, so unless there is a standard mechanism for every lawyer to use the technology, its value is limited. Given that many lawyers don’t even use case management systems themselves, getting them to use a third party solution may be optimistic at best.
Solving the issue
There are no quick fixes to solving the communication issues in sales progression. However, by agents becoming more informed about the legal aspects of the transaction and driving the need for greater accountability and transparency with lawyers, this will bring positive change.