The problem with conveyancing
Conveyancing is the crucial but often painful legal work required to buy or remortgage a home.
But what actually happens in those months between having your offer accepted and getting your keys? And why does everyone seem to get so freaked out by the process?
Conveyancing is kind of a black hole
The process of buying a home made up of a bunch of different parts. You view properties, make an offer, get a mortgage, and then conveyancing begins. This is the last step before you get to move in. But it’s a big step.
In conveyancing, your solicitor or conveyancer will undertake all of the searches and legal legwork to make your home purchase official. They’ll exchange contracts on your behalf and your mortgage will complete. Then you’ll pick up your keys, pop the champagne, and pat yourself on the back for surviving the process.
Sounds simple enough.
The trouble is that conveyancing has an opacity problem – it’s often nearly impossible to understand where you are in the process, and getting answers can be really challenging. As a buyer, this can be extremely stressful.
How has this negative experience come to be the norm?
The problem with conveyancing
There are 3 big issues with conveyancing as we know it today. The first big problem can be called “the race to the bottom”.
Because conveyancers have not lately been distinguished by the quality of the service they provide, the only way to attract new business is by lowering prices.
Sounds good, right? Not quite so. When the margins are so slim and the workload is so high, the stage is set for truly terrible customer service. This can mean poor communication, mistakes and delays in the process.
While a low price tag may seem attractive at first, sometimes you really do get what you pay for. And when it comes to buying your home, instructing a cheap conveyancer may not be a risk you want to take.
The second issue is the profoundly outdated technology and structure that make up the conveyancing process. More specifically, the conveyancing process isn’t really “online” yet.
Consider the end of the stamp duty holiday in 2021. As the deadline approached, there was a huge surge in home purchases. As a result, conveyancers were put under enormous pressure and the process stretched from 12 – 14 weeks on average to 5+ months – largely because the infrastructure in place was not equipped to handle that kind of volume.
These delays – caused by fundamentally out-of-date systems and tech – meant many aspiring buyers missed the stamp duty deadline and found themselves having to pay thousands more than they had planned.
This failure of the process signals a desperate need for systemic improvements to how conveyancing is executed. For starters: no more fax machines.
The third issue is the nature of the process itself.
Conveyancers do not have an easy job. They’re responsible for working with a number of third parties that need to provide information or perform an action to help complete the home purchase.
These can include estate agents, the Land Registry, and planning offices to name a few – and all of these stakeholders are multiplied for every step in a chain of home purchases. When conveyancers are already overloaded with work, proactively chasing up these third parties becomes all but impossible.
This complexity creates – and even enables – delays through the entire process. It’s a system-wide problem that hurts customers and conveyancers alike.
Ultimately, truly fixing the problem of conveyancing will require industry-wide collaboration and less price sensitivity from homebuyers, which is a big ask in today’s climate.
How to fix conveyancing
To address these problems, the entire industry needs to shift.
There is a shortage in conveyancers today – no doubt partially because the work can feel thankless and it doesn’t always pay very well. Conveyancing firms need to begin charging fees that allow them to differentiate their service based on performance and customer care rather than rock-bottom prices. This would mean staff could be paid more fairly and firms could take on fewer clients, leaving staff with more manageable workloads. That’s a recipe for better customer service.
Everyone needs to update their systems – and we’re not just thinking about conveyancers themselves. The Land Registry and other governmental offices need to implement faster, more secure online systems so the entire process can move along more swiftly. A robust case management system will allow conveyancers to work more efficiently and reduce the possibility of human error.
And lastly, we either need to find a way to break conveyancing away from purchase chains – or integrate them entirely. Today, the simplest type of transaction is a chain-free property purchase. These transactions have the fewest variables and you’re not held back by any other homebuyers (disorganised as they can be).
And lastly, it could help to break conveyancing away from purchase chains, because These transactions have the fewest variables and you’re not held back by any other homebuyers (disorganised as they can be). But chains are deeply embedded in how our housing market works.
None of these are simple fixes, because unfortunately, this isn’t a simple problem. Ultimately, truly fixing the problem of conveyancing will require industry-wide collaboration and less price sensitivity from homebuyers, which is a big ask in today’s climate.
One thing is certain: conveyancing as we know it today is unsustainable. Something has to give. Someone has to innovate. Or this already broken system will only get worse.
In the meantime, we’re trying to lead by example – and we hope others will rise to the occasion, too.