Consolidation could bite old-fashioned conveyancers
Peter Joseph, chief executive at The Moving Hub
Business consolidation is inevitable in any challenging political and economic climate, and for those operating in and around what has been a relatively subdued housing market this is even more apparent.
The latest data from Search Acumen highlighted that the number of active conveyancing firms in England and Wales dropped below 4,000 (3,961) for the first time on record. The number of firms has fallen by 9% compared to five years ago – equivalent to 369 fewer active firms. The consolidation of the market means the top 200 conveyancing firms now control more of the market (39%) than ever before and the top 1,000 conveyancers now control more than three-quarters of the market – another first.
Total conveyancing transaction volumes were down 4% on a quarterly basis, as the market processed 255,989 cases in Q1 2019 compared to 267,438 in Q4 2018, and down 6% annually. Despite this slowdown in overall activity, the tracker showed that the average number of cases conveyancing firms dealt with in Q1 2019 (65) remains healthy even in the face of market headwinds – up 11% on five years ago as fewer active firms are left competing for business.
None of these figures should come as any great surprise to anyone, but they are useful markers in highlighting the direction in which the conveyancing sector is moving. And a strong driving force within this movement – as is the case in all sectors of the housing and mortgage market – is technology.
As highlighted in the data, continued efforts by the government to digitise property and land data – coupled with innovative and efficient ways to add to and maximize the growing pool of information – mean that conveyancers and lawyers are benefitting from having better insights at their fingertips.
Technology offers the key to facilitating a mortgage path of least resistance, even in a notoriously slow and complex area such as conveyancing. The push for speedier instructions through to completions, additional transparency and less of a reliance on staff is resulting in keener fees and slicker processes across the board.
Meaning that consolidation could continue to knock for those high-street conveyancers relying on old working methods and not integrating the kinds of technology demanded by clients, intermediaries and lenders. A factor which also places an increased emphasis on intermediaries choosing their conveyancing partners wisely so that their clients don’t get left behind.