Brokers: Have conveyancing timeframes improved since the stamp duty rush?

Journalist: Les Steed, AE3 Media / Mortgage Solutions

ended 29. April 2022

Our poll has shown that 43.5 per cent of intermediaries feel that conveyancy timeframes have become longer since the stamp duty rush. 

I'm looking for a few lines on your experience, thoughts, and what you think needs to be done to improve conveyancy times. What are the biggest road blocks? What's making it worse/better?

9 responses from the Newspage community

Conveyancing overall has been dire since the pandemic. No one knows what takes so long, and for whatever reason, most conveyancers would rather pick a snake up than a phone to give a client updates. It's important to note, that not all conveyancers are like this. Ocassionalyl you find an absolute gem every so often and keep it quiet to ensure they don't get swamped with cases and trip over. It's not just conveyancers that cause roadblocks, and it's time we reimagined the entire home buying and selling process to drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Slow conveyancing times are the bugbear of buyers, vendors and mortgage advisors alike. I think part of the reason is that many solicitors have archaic IT systems in place to manage the workload. They're just plain inefficient. And often, if a solicitor is snowed under, they'll leave cases on the backburner until the buyer chases them.
Please don't get me started on conveyancing timescales, they are pretty much a nightmare. The process is slow, antiquated and all-round frustrating for everyone involved. The problem is the process has barely changed with the times, hardly anything is digital, lots of paperwork still being posted and scanned (and lost). Then add on top of that many conveyancing solicitors taking on huge workloads, with it not unusual to wait 1-2 weeks every time for a reply. The whole process needs to be made digital, quicker and simpler.
"Sadly, conveyancers are suffering from the same issue as many areas of modern life - the race to the bottom. Online portals now allow clients to look at multiple quotes from conveyancers and guess which one they pick? The cheapest one nine times out of ten. As with anything in life, if you pick the cheapest it is very unlikely to be the best and the £100or £200 you just 'saved' is exchanged for a slow process and bucket loads of stress." "When remortgaging many clients and brokers will, very naturally, opt for the free legal package offered by the new lender. However, these services are often stripped down to the bare bones of the job and over-worked, especially in the current market where we still see huge volumes of property transactions. It all works fine if your application is a simple one, but if you have a slightly unusual property, or want to amend the Title in some way (maybe add or remove someone) for example, then it all starts to unravel pretty quickly into a slow and painful test of patience."
Conveyancing and speed should not be mentioned in the same sentence, god forbid a client wants to use free legals from a lender, these are even worse. This doenst go for all conveynecors however the vast majoity are woeful, causing the majoity of delays with what seems no recourse.
Conveyancing has long been the tail that wags the dog of a property transaction. It is a commonly accepted cliché "buying a home is one of the most stressful experiences in modern life" and it simply should not be. We are guilty of perpetuating the dreadful experience our customers go through every time we utter this nonsense. We are creating an excuse ahead of the event. It is simply unacceptable that the experience today is the same as it was pre-microchip. The issue is complex, firstly conveyancing has been commoditised and price driven down so that to make a living many conveyancing firms have to run extremely lean, high volume businesses. It doesn’t take much to destabilise their business balancing act – a slow third party, staff absence, a sudden increase of volume – all of this happened together during 2020/2021 and BOOM! you have a conveyancing crunch. There was no where for conveyancing firms to hide. Secondly, there is a significant cultural problem; there simply is not the focus on the customer that has been bred into the mortgage process over the last twenty years. It appears that a conveyance is judged purely on the file’s completeness with little regard to the experience. The secure conveyance of a property is absolutely the number one concern, however, it seems forgotten that they are providing a service to humans who have other needs and expectations beyond the technical delivery. Customers are an interruption to their work day and intermediaries are bombastically bigger disruptions. Much of the complaints I hear are communication, or lack of. Phone calls and emails not returned, questions not answered, queries not explained. A representative of a conveyancer said to me in the last couple of weeks that a conveyance is “complex” – I pointed out that clients may be barristers, scientists, or, academics and actually to use another cliché “you only truly understand a subject if you can explain it to a child”. Dare I say, conveyancers can be condescending. There are some simply steps that conveyancing firms can take to improve but it will not be a quick fix. Conveyancing firms need to listen and act upon the abundant feedback available. Just because it has been does not mean it needs to be. Make change. Treat customers as equals and treat them fairly (intermediaries are, of course, customers as much as the people being represented). Use technology wizely to speed up process and communicate with all parties. I do value the essential role that conveyancers play, but, how it is served to their customers is like having their dinner throw in their lap in the restaurant and the chef saying "it tastes good".
Conveyancing has become a very long 4-letter word amongst the broker community for some time now. It is the part of the process that has yet to adapt or evolve in any meaningful way, and is symptomatic of the issues in the home buying journey. Much time is spent on trying to speed up the mortgage process, but this is totally misleading as the mortgage part is the part that works pretty well. A well-packaged case even on a purchase can elicit a mortgage offer in a matter of a few days, whilst a conveyancing process can be like trying to push water uphill with a bad back. Unfortunately, some lenders have to take their share of the blame. Pushing down the cost into a bucket-shop "service" just to be able to tag on the concept of "free legals". Brave lenders should axe them - pure and simple, and replace them with a nicer cash-back. Elsewhere there are still too many conveyancers that write letters in quill and ink then send them off attached to the foot of Percy the Pidgeon whilst they close for lunch and a quick nap. In both these cases the concept of customer service eludes their grasp. Thankfully there are some great conveyancers out there, who really care about their clients and are only too happy to respond to brokers, whilst technology is beginning to make a difference, with some great work being done by certain groups on fixing this part of the journey. Blockchain technology will eventually make one heck of a difference and finally change the conveyencing landscape, leading to sighs of relief from buyers, estate agents and brokers alike.
Britain's archaic conveyancing process was undoubtedly hit hard by covid, but many firms have hung on to that now weak rationale to justify current poor service levels. During the pandemic society changed and many people looked to move home. People, understandably wanted to have more space and freedoms. Combined with the stamp duty concessions, this created the busiest property market seen in current times and conveyancing firms boomed. Most front line conveyancers want to do a good job, but they physically can't; they are restricted by the volume of work heaped upon them by their firms in the pursuit of enhanced revenues for 'fat cat' legal partners. Speak to any solicitor working in the property sector and they will speak of, under-staffed, under-paid, lack of training, and high-stress environments damaging to employees mental health.
Conveyancing times seem to have gotten worse since the stamp duty deadline. The number of cases I've had where the mortgage offer has expired before completion has shot up, and mortgage offered last for six months! The range in quality of service in conveyancing is huge. I wince when my clients tell me they've picked one based on an estate agent saying 'they are our in house solicitor so it will all be done quickly.' Shop around, read reviews. Ultimately if somebody else in the chain has picked a doozy though, everyone else is going to suffer.