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The conveyancing process is NOT broken

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“Oh yes it is!” “Oh no it’s not”. While panto season seems a lifetime away, when it comes to the home buying process, the pantomime villains of the peace are definitely the lawyers. However, unlike these annual theatre-based bust-ups, arguments about the conveyancing process are far more frequent.  Barely a month goes by without an online flare-up, normally resulting in someone declaring; “The conveyancing process is broken – we need to start again”.

In my opinion, this is just plain wrong. The conveyancing process is NOT broken.

What do you mean it’s not broken?

I can hear the cracking of the knuckles of those anonymous posters warming up their fingers to start writing their responses.  “Absolute drivel … the quality of opinion on this forum has really gone downhill … Ros would have never allowed such nonsense.”

But let’s look in reality at the conveyancing process itself;

Step 1 – lawyers confirm their client’s details and what they are selling and/or buying.

Step 2 – the seller’s lawyer sends the information they have to the buyer.

Step 3 – the buyer reviews both this and other information from other sources.

Step 4 – the buyer then asks seller to clarify any areas of concern.  When these are all addressed, the seller and buyer agree terms and the buyer sends a deposit to the seller’s lawyer.

Step 5 – on the day of completion the buyer sends the balance of money outstanding to the sellers lawyer.

This is the process that enables millions of people to move house every year.  It is reasonably secure, protects clients and it works.

Compare this with banking services.  Mortgage offers are taking 6 weeks.  Redemption statements can take hours to obtain.  Debit card payments don’t clear for 3 days.   Does this mean the banking system is broken?  No – the banks’ role is to protect our money and move it between people securely and they achieve this.

Yes, we’d like to see improvements, but that doesn’t mean it’s broken.

The process is not broken, it’s difficult

The answers to my favourite question “what is wrong with conveyancing?” can be summed up by “it’s done by too many poorly trained inefficient and lazy people that are running too many cases”.

However, from my experience, the problem comes down to expectation.   At the start of the process, clients often tell us their matter “is a straightforward transaction which will go through quickly”.  How can this conclusion be reached before anyone has got any data about the property to back this up?

Which goes to the heart of the problem.

Conveyancing is a highly time-consuming activity, most of which is hidden from clients and agents – the only external signs of which are poor communication and delays.   To illustrate this, I want to share some of our data to shows just how much is involved in each case.

Since the start of 2020, we have completed about 1500 transactions.

There were on average, 26 enquiries (the black hole of conveyancing) raised on every case – the highest figure was 111.

With emails, the bane of everyone’s life, we processed 225 for each case, with the most being 884 – and these were just with other professionals.

All our clients communicate through our portal and exchanged on average 103 messages, with the highest being 338.  Obviously this doesn’t include telephone calls.

Finally, we handled on average 156 documents per case, with the most being 389.

The sheer volume of data that needs to be dealt with gives a glimpse into how much work is involved in “straightforward cases”.   It’s no surprise that things take so long, or why lawyers struggle to answer the telephone.

Can we fix this?

I’ve shown that the conveyancing process is drowning in the sheer amount of data that needs to be handled per case.

But does having a lawyer with more experience overcome this issue?   Potentially yes, because with more experience the number of enquiries raised may be reduced, and documents could potentially be interpreted more quickly.  However, this is not guaranteed and we have no evidence to back this up.

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to this problem of lack of experience.

The answer will come from technology that can analyse property documents, automatically raise and track enquiries and interpret documents to reach conclusions.

Conclusion

As conveyancing is not broken, it doesn’t need fixing.

But it does need refinement, particularly in the way that data is handled. Address that problem and you’ve got a perfectly workable mechanism in place today for buying and selling properties more efficiently.

However, in reality, it’s going to take a bit of Panto magic from Aladdin and his lamp to spirit lawyers away from their reliance on paper files and their ineffectual use of even basic technology.

Published in Property Industry Eye: https://propertyindustryeye.com/opinion-the-conveyancing-process-is-not-broken/