What PurpleBricks and conveyancers have in common

Bizarre I should say it, but the M62 got me thinking the other day. As I was cruising down the motorway,there was pristine tarmac all clearly laid out in front of me and with limited traffic and I was making goodtime. A bit like a property transaction in the lead-up to going under offer.

However, completely out of the blue, the speed limit immediately dropped to 30 miles per hour for roadworks.

What ensued was a maze of contraflows, speed cameras plus health and safety paraphernalia. There were of course no roadworkers to be seen.

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This is exactly what happens in a property transaction when one works from under offer to exchange of contracts.

Alex GoldsteinAlex Goldstein
Alex Goldstein

This is where a perfectly put together agreement between buyer and seller can, in the hands of two conveyancers, be thrown into a dumper truck.

The conveyancers roll out their heavy-duty excavators, switch on their orange beacon lights and start to create what feels like giant craters in a proposed transaction, which then need navigating around.

Don’t get me wrong, they are there to act in their clients’ best interests. However when I am advising clients that the conveyancing will take between three and four months on average, one has to question what is going on.

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Not so long ago, 28 days was the standard. The world has gone highly litigious in all walks of life and I can appreciate why many conveyancers are on the paranoid side of the fence.

As such their professional indemnity insurance has gone up significantly in cost and some companies have stopped conveyancing altogether, as they perceive the risk and cost too great.

Over the last decade, I feel conveyancing has gone the way of the PurpleBricks working model, which was mass volume, stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap type attitude and we all know what happened to PurpleBricks. It went from being valued at £1.4 billion, to being sold for £1.

I believe this race to the bottom on fees is a key factor in why the quality and speed of legals can be so poor.

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This impacts not only on conveyancers themselves, but estate agents, buyers and sellers. Those involved in the process are not getting what they want as low conveyancing fees means a stripped out service .

Under this business model, one needs to call into question who is acting in their clients’ best interests?

Conveyancing is a very tough job indeed but the longer the process takes, the greater the stress for all involved. Solicitors get paid regardless of whether the deal transacts or not.

Estate agents, buyers and sellers get nothing if it falls through, which again doesn’t help the process and is why relationships with conveyancers can be strained at times.

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The key is to ask who the estate agent would use themselves for conveyancing and to ensure that they are low volume and quote a sensible fee. Any whiff of a referral fee, walk away.

Alex Goldstein is an independent property consultant in Yorkshire and London. www.alexgoldstein.co.uk, 01423 788377