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Residential Property

The proverbial ‘race to the bottom’

Conveyancing

Friday, December 3, 2021

For as long as I can remember, there has been an ongoing debate surrounding the fees charged by conveyancers. The optics of this debate are invariably set from two viewpoints: ‘We don’t charge enough’ and ‘They charge too much’.

The advent of low-cost conveyancers has undoubtedly played its part in this debate and led to a sharp cut in fees for residential conveyancing. Potential clients now have a plethora of price comparison websites at their disposal offering quotations from multiple conveyancers ‘in 60 seconds’ and all promising to ‘take the hassle’ out of the conveyancing process.   

This has always been a worry for solicitors and conveyancers alike; even more so now following the introduction of mandatory price publishing on firm websites. What if other local firms are charging less than us? Should we reduce our prices to match or even beat what they’re charging? Price comparison, and the subsequent ‘race to the bottom’ which ensues, has always been the temptation.

As with anything, however, you get what you pay for and this may never be truer when it comes to residential conveyancing.

The Legal Ombudsman published a report in 2014 called ‘Losing the plot: Residential conveyancing complaints and their causes’ which identified residential conveyancing as accounting for 17.5% of the 7,500 complaints handled by the ombudsman’s office at that time. This made it the second most complained about area of law after family. 

The report also warned of the dangers of ‘conveyancing factories’ which pose a risk to homebuyers, by conducting a race to the bottom on price and commoditising the house buying process.

Whilst I will not name names (those in the industry will know of the outfits which I speak of), the so-called factories have never been more prevalent in the marketplace. Moreover, the complaints data compiled for 2019/2020 by the Legal Ombudsman marks residential conveyancing top of the class for overall complaints handled by their office, accounting for 28% of the complaints received. 

Perhaps I am cynical and there is no direct correlation between the increased prevalence of conveyancing factories and number of complaints received. On the other hand, perhaps there is.

Quality not quantity

To make conveyancing a safe and financially sustainable practice area, conveyancers must be able to charge a fee that reflects the work, time and expertise needed to do our jobs effectively. This is not a revolutionary concept, but one that we, as the conveyancing practitioner, together with our associated firms, perhaps fail to fully grasp. 

It never fails to amaze me the attitude which, by and large, clients adopt when selling or purchasing property. Whether moving home, or purchasing property as an investment, the transactions which they instruct us to undertake will likely be the largest (at least financially) in their lifetime. Often, said transactions will require clients to commit to a high level of debt which they may be paying off for the rest of their working lives. 

Why then, do clients seem so intent on sourcing the cheapest possible practitioners to carry out such high value, not to mention highly complex, work on their behalf? Could we perhaps look inward and acknowledge that there may be failings on our part to (pardon the pun) convey the value and expertise which we can and do offer to our clients. 

Generally, I find that most clients do not understand the extent of what is required to complete a conveyance successfully — the legal knowledge, experience, due diligence and steps that need to be taken. 

English land law is arguably some of the most complicated in the world with terminology and principles still deeply rooted in feudalism dating as far back as the 9th Century. It considers a rich tapestry of ownership interests in land, ranging from the more obvious freehold and leasehold estates to other lesser-known interests and obligations such as: covenants, easements and overriding interests.

From the outside looking in, conveyancing can appear to be a simple paper shuffling process. Insert client comments such as: ‘surely it’s just a case of printing out a contract’ which I’ve had uttered to me more times than I care to remember.

It is perhaps unsurprising then, that we find clients are reluctant to pay for the expertise which they are oblivious to receiving.

Conclusion

I believe the equation is a simple one: where value is understood, price becomes less of an issue. 

As conveyancing practitioners, we need to better balance this equation in favour of the value which we offer to our clients. Not only will this allow us to free ourselves up to better service our clients, but it will benefit the legal system as a whole and the quality of work undertaken therein. 

The balancing, I’d suggest, starts with a change in mindset as to what we are actually doing for our clients and taking time to educate them accordingly. It should not be about the price which we charge (that only leads to the aforementioned race to the bottom benefitting nobody); instead, we must focus on the value offered to our clients. We aren’t just preparing a contract and lodging a transfer – no. We are providing peace of mind by ensuring that the biggest sale or purchase of our client’s life goes ahead without a problem.

Contact us

Samuel Phillips Law is committed to providing high quality, bespoke conveyancing services to all of our clients. We offer fair, competitive pricing based on the level of work and expertise provided by our lawyers; reviews of which can be seen here: https://www.reviewsolicitors.co.uk/top/newcastle-upon-tyne 

To speak to one of our specialist property lawyers, please do not hesitate to contact us today by calling 0191 255 0225; or if you prefer, you can email conveyancing@samuelphillips.co.uk to obtain a conveyancing quote.

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