David Gilman, partner in charge, Blacks Connect
So, welcome to 2015. It feels too late to be saying ‘Happy New Year’ especially if, like me, you feel the Christmas and New Year holiday break already feels like a long time ago. I’m not sure what it is about January but it seems to have the somewhat contradictory ability to be a ‘long month’ and yet here we are already past the half-way point. As a particularly poor stand-up comic might put it, ‘How does that work?’
Anyway, on to more pressing issues and a new year, as always, gives us a chance to reflect on what has passed and prepare ourselves (and our businesses) for what might be coming over the horizon.
As others working in the conveyancing sector have already pointed out, there does appear to be a greater feeling of preparedness from firms this year than in previous January’s.
This can be a sector which waits too long to ‘resource up’ for increases in activity however I get the sense that this is no longer the case.
Certainly, from our perspective we have put in place all the necessary resources in order to deal with greater activity and we are, without doubt, looking to expand our reach and our relationships with an intermediary community which is also in a far stronger position than 12 months ago.
We should all recognise by now that the MMR created a greater impetus for lenders to seek out intermediary distribution and I therefore fully expect to see greater levels of mortgage business coming through the broker channel.
To that end, this should mean intermediary firms are ready themselves to make the most of the growing opportunity that exists for them. Advice has perhaps never been so important to consumers and we are not simply talking about the core mortgage service but all other needs they have, including conveyancing and wider legal services.
The phrase ‘one stop shop’ is completely over-used to a point where it has become something of a cliché however this is exactly the type of service intermediaries should be offering.
Given that conveyancing recommendations can be provided extremely quickly, I am not sure why you wouldn’t be active in this sector. The phrase ‘no brainer’ can probably be housed in the same cliché shop window as ‘one stop shop’ but this is my feeling on the matter.
In terms of the outlook for conveyancing in 2015, I suspect we will continue to move down the same path that we have done for some time.
Larger volume operators like ourselves will continue to take market share while the number of ‘dabbler’ firms – conducting very small numbers of cases each month – will continue to shrink.
We believe transaction levels will, at the very least, hold up however, if anyone has a crystal ball, could they tell me the result of the General Election in May and perhaps the next few weeks’ lottery numbers.
Seriously, the General Election is something of an unknown for many reasons and it will be interesting to see how existing borrowers, prospective first-timers, buy-to-let landlords react, the closer we get to May 7.
There is every likelihood that some people will wait to see who forms the next Government before making their move but it also might be the case that the potential impact is being over-talked and/or over-cooked.
It would be interesting to see some research into how activity levels have fluctuated in the lead up to previous Elections – I’m sure we will see a raft of such data the closer we get to polling day.
So, as always I am cautiously positive about the future for the housing market and the conveyancing sector in particular.
Our focus will remain firmly on the intermediary market – the quality brokers look likely to reap a strong reward given the current conditions and the regulatory changes which have tipped the balance in their favour. Now would certainly be the time to take advantage of the pro-intermediary environment we are currently living in.