What’s the point of conveyancing?

Sally Holdway

September 26, 2017

Sally Holdway (pictured) is founder of legal futurist keyzee.co @legaledge

So, I’ve been involved with the world of conveyancing for the last 20 years plus (it was pointed out to me recently, that means I actually started out in the last century — yikes!). Over the years, I have acted for countless clients, helping them move house, sorting the legal stuff, arranging move day finances. I can provide you with endless lists of important enquiries conveyancing lawyers cover off, protecting their clients’ legal interest in their property during the conveyancing process.

Indeed, there are over 4,000 law firms up and down the country, beavering away, doing all this good work for their clients on a daily basis, helping to facilitate the million or so house moves that take place every year in the UK.

But there is an elephant in the room. And even as elephants go, it’s a pretty big one. More a woolly mammoth if we’re being honest. And that is to ask the fundamental question… why do we still bother with conveyancing?

Seriously, what’s the point of it?

I attended a property auction this week. When the hammer falls, the buyer is legally committed. The property is theirs, warts and all. If there is a nasty restrictive covenant, or a local search entry about a breached planning condition, tough luck. None of this seemed to bother any the 300 or so people sitting in the auction room, or impact the 85 properties which were sold within a two hours period of frenzied bidding activity.

How many times does Martyn off Homes Under the Hammer chastise a buyer for not reading the legal pack of an auction property? How many times does he return ‘later in the programme’ to find that the buyer has still managed to secure themselves a nice profit of £50,000 despite this glaring error?

The simple fact is that homebuyers don’t care about conveyancing. They do care if something goes wrong of course, and do want to be covered if something crops up about their property. However, I can categorically assure you, having sat on the other side of the desk for some many years, that when a home buyer realises that its going to be another four months post offer (the average conveyancing processing time in England and Wales) before they can get their keys, they are less than delighted, and that lengthy unwieldy conveyancing process yields no discernible benefits to them whatsoever.

Let’s be frank, the number of times a transaction fails because of an issue that crops up during the conveyancing process is negligible. The number of times a transaction fails due (at least in part) to the delays in the post offer process is circa 20%. Something needs to change.

So what’s the solution?

I think this is threefold.

It’s firstly about refocusing the entire process around the homemover. Not just the legals, but the entire experience…making it not just stress free (which will be a major win in itself), but actually fun.

Secondly it’s about starting the brave conversations about what current conveyancing processes are actually delivering for homemovers and the other key stakeholders in the transaction; getting out the blank sheet of paper and the post it notes, and mind-mapping the heck out of it. We need to get collaborating and open sourcing.

Thirdly, we must leverage IT to deliver the solution. Blockchain and smart contracts lend themselves beautifully to this space, and we need to start work on this now.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a problem which will be solved overnight and there is a VERY long list of property related due diligence which must be included in any 21st century homebuying process, but my hunch is that this shouldn’t (and won’t) bear much resemblance to what we have at the moment.

If you interested in joining us in this journey and contributing to the conversation, then give us a shout!

And let’s make conveyancing sexy!

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