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Conveyancing challenges - Tesco Law

publication date: May 10, 2012
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With Tesco Law coming into force, lenders reducing their panels and the Law Society launching their Conveyancing Quality Scheme, the conveyancing world isn’t short of challenges. This is precisely why the Conveyancing Association launched in September 2010 and now represents the majority of the UK’s major conveyancing firms.

SM What do you think will be the main challenges facing the industry this year?
EG Right across the industry we will see all types of organisations, from solicitors to estate agents to corporates talking about the full impact of the Legal Services Act and what steps they are taking to take full advantage. Whilst this may raise challenges for some firms, it’s not the only issue facing conveyancers – lenders are already beginning to reduce the number of firms on their panels with HSBC leading the way this year, we are seeing a steady stream of new regulatory and legislative requirements making compliance ever-more challenging and the recent restriction of the solicitors’ PII market has created a perfect storm for change.

SM You mentioned the Legal Services Act – in reality, what impact do you think it will have?
EG I think time will tell – whilst we may not see Tesco opening up law firms on every street corner, the Act could well signal the final nail in the coffin for lawyers who dabble in conveyancing or who do not embrace modern technology to enable them to provide the service demanded by lenders. The type of organisations those are now able to offer legal services have vast experience in marketing and have built up an invaluable reputation with their customers. So whilst they may not have the same level of legal experience, there’s nothing stopping them buying that in. 

But it’s not just conveyancers that will be impacted by ABSs. Will we see a big supermarket selling houses, conveyancing, mortgages, removal services alongside their current offering of banking, insurance and in-store opticians? Maybe not in the next 6 or 12 months but I think we could be heading in that direction. 

SM But will lenders be happy dealing with ‘one stop shops’ when on the whole, they’re used to dealing with specialist law firms?
EG Lenders no doubt will be approached by law firms and groups who can offer a ‘one stop shop’. But with mortgage fraud on the rise, they will be faced with questions of how to mitigate this whilst using ABSs
to reduce operational costs and drive efficiencies. With this in mind, serious conveyancers can really step up their game and prove their worth.

SM HSBC recently announced a huge reduction in their conveyancing panel – isn’t this bad news for consumers?
EG Ultimately it could be good news for consumers as it means that the firms that stay on lenders’ panels will be those who offer high quality standards and a superior service. Given that we will see more lenders heading in this direction as they try and minimise the risk of fraud, this also needs to act as a wakeup call to serious conveyancers – if they want to continue working with lenders, they will need to demonstrate good compliance, risk management, competence and probity of staff and financial stability.

SM Will consumers care which firm they use, do they even understand what the conveyancer does?
EG The majority of consumers probably don’t fully understand what it is that we do! But a conveyancer effectively goes through all your paperwork and legalities to confirm the transfer of legal title of property from one person to another whilst notifying you of any restrictions or potential issues with the property in advance of a purchase. If we look at what factors affect your decision when choosing a conveyancer, cost, recommendations or previous experience are probably high on the list. As we enter a changing legal landscape, serious conveyancers therefore need to ensure that they are offering a competitive service with high quality standards.

SM What can industry members do to remain on lenders’ panels?
EG We first of all need to recognise that with increased mortgage fraud, lenders are absolutely within their right to manage their risk and only work with trusted parties as a way of combating it.

We have already seen major lenders such as HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and Nationwide reduce the number of firms that they have on their panels and I believe others will follow in their footsteps.

Our members recognise that unless they are both quick in taking appropriate action and ensuring they have rigorous measures in place, they could be left in a vulnerable position.

That’s why the CA is working with lenders to ensure there our members are carrying out their services at a superior level which will best serve the wider industry and consumers.

SM Do accreditation schemes could play a role or are they not worth the paper they’re printed on?
EG We are fully supportive of the objectives behind such schemes like the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme and it is absolutely imperative that firms are committed to raising and maintaining standards. But my question is whether it will be enough to persuade lenders to do business with firms on the basis of this badge? In order to have teeth and longevity it will need to be robust enough for lenders to trust it otherwise I fear that they will continue to implement their own systems.

SM So what are the next steps for the Conveyancing Association?
EG The coming months will be a busy time for the CA as we continue meeting with lenders and stakeholders, engaging in industry consultations and work to shape the environment we work in.

Professionals in the sector whose service delivery includes conveyancing are urged to join us as we continue on our journey in this changing landscape.

SM What role can estate agents play in helping to streamline and improve the homebuying process?
EG The current process is viewed as being too slow and inefficient but this isn’t the case in all situations. There are some estate agents that work very well in trying to improve the homebuying process but the conveyancing process could be much better integrated into the way agents work.

Streamlining the process through better communication, better co-operation, greater collaborative working and adhering to protocols will lead to more efficient and profitable systems for conveyancers as well as an easier homebuying and selling process for the consumer.

We can sometimes get into the habit of talking quite negatively about the property sector, but has the industry seen any improvements recently?

We are in a different place now to where we were some years ago but the legal sector hasn’t necessarily moved far enough in the direction it needs to. There have been suggestions of e-conveyancing, the chain matrix and we saw the introduction of Home Information Packs, which were fairly swiftly abandoned.

The very fact that potential homebuyers can now log on to their computer and look at an energy certificates, floor plans, photos, crime records and average house sales in the area, tells you something about the changing nature of how consumers enter this marketplace. And put simply, our services need to match this.

We cannot afford to keep operating how we used to ten years ago when there are firms that are offering online services, longer opening hours and better availability of information, and that’s just the basics!

SM What survival tips would you give the property industry for 2012?
EG Look at your competitors and the best firms out there and think about whether you could match or exceed their service.

If the answer is no, look at areas to improve – that could be investment in staff, better risk management, improved financial stability, implementing marketing and PR activity or joining a trade body that represents your needs!

Different companies will require different methods but either way, in the coming months and years firms will need to improve or they will simply be left behind.

Do you have any views to share?