David Gilman is partner in charge, Blacks Connect
It is customary when judging the relative merits or deficiencies of modern conveyancing practices, or of evaluating standards of service within the industry, to do so from the perspective of consumers.
Which, readers will be readily forgiven for thinking a perfectly natural state of affairs.
Yet, as the demand for a clearer, fairer and (above all) faster transactional journey continues to grow, and the desirability of a streamlined process which links each working component becomes increasingly apparent, so too has the wisdom of establishing closer relationships with individual elements within the chain; a chance to strengthen the underlying procedural ‘fabric’ of our industry and create a stronger footing for future improvements or innovations.
Given our position at the latter stages of the transaction process, therefore, establishing a clear insight into what constitutes good conveyancing practice from the perspective of brokers has become a hugely significant issue for all those in the sector to contend with – a barometer, if you will, of where we need to go and what we need to do to improve existing services.
Last month, therefore, Blacks Connect hosted a broker forum in Leeds on this very subject, with representatives from both local and national firms being asked to identify aspects of the conveyancing process which they found to be frustrating (or otherwise) and offer suggestions for what could be considered as the best possible practice going forward. The conclusions were, to say the least, illuminating.
Firstly, there was a widespread recognition of the many examples of good conveyancing to be found across the general market, with firms encompassing a variety of commercial models (from small high street firms to larger conveyancing ‘factories’) being singled out for praise.
However, as you would also expect, the distinction between what represented good and bad working practice was hotly debated, with examples of poor communication and a perceived lack of pro-activity in terms of delivering acceptable completion times (often resulting in aborted sales or other complications) being regarded as amongst the most prominent examples of bad conveyancing. So, no surprises there!
Yet, incidences of transactions with no dedicated case handler, of solicitors actioning vital parts of the process at the last possible moment (thereby incurring frustration and emotional stress to brokers/clients) and of a general lack of understanding for the implications of bad service to both advisers and consumers .
This presents a stark reminder of the pitfalls which our industry needs to address and improve upon if we wish to discard our reputation as being cumbersome or downright obstructive, irrespective of the pardonable hold ups, niggles and archaic transfer issues that are routinely referenced by solicitors to counter unwarranted criticisms.
Indeed, the examples of good conveyancing practice which were highlighted by the forum should all be regarded as perfectly achievable targets for the conveyancing sector to achieve and as a ‘bare minimum’ of service to both custom bases and brokers.
These include personalising the terms of engagement with each client and of getting the ‘basics’ (such as names, addresses, property, lender etc) correct so that every element is made to feel an integral part of the overall process, while also maintaining a respectful level of dialogue and keeping all parties informed of progress- a simple case of good manners and good communication skills (is there really any need to legislate for this type of behaviour?!).
In addition, taking ownership of a case and delivering on expectations in a time orderly manner, while adopting a pro-active stance and chasing up all aspects of a transaction, even if they are perceived as being outside of a firms control (such as local searches, documents, ID, proof of deposit etc), was identified as a sure-fire means of maintaining both confidence and satisfaction amongst clients and brokers – simple things, in other words, that count for a lot.
End to end
And lastly, recognising that a broker is on the same side as the conveyancer and tailoring an approach which reflects this fact also scored highly; could there be a better way of improving relationships and enhancing ‘end to end’ services?
The forum also concluded that further improvements could be made to the conveyancing process by focussing on the use of technology and by using timelines or simple flowcharts to educate clients (who often have little or no idea of what the transfer of property entails) as to their likely post-offer journey.
In addition, conveyancers were urged to contact all parties in advance of completion in order to inform them of any shortfalls incurred by the inclusion of ERCs or building insurance, while actively involving brokers in the ‘education process’ so as to minimise confusion or disorientation during the completion process and to remind clients that good conveyancing is not always just about price or speed at all costs.
Because, when all is said and done, the key to offering a level of service which corresponds with 21st century consumer expectations isn’t rocket science.
Instead, it’s about realistically managing these expectations via strong and consistent communications, pro-actively dealing with each stage of the completion process and personalising the journey for clients in a way which makes them feel valued and part of the process; remembering, in short, that relationships and people still matter.