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Number of conveyancing firms at all-time low: Search Acumen

The number of active conveyancing firms handling property transactions in England and Wales has fallen to the lowest figure since the Land Registry began publishing its data, according to Search Acumen.

The property data insight and technology provider’s Q3 2018 edition of the Conveyancing Market Tracker shows a consolidation of activity at the top of the market as bigger conveyancers take more business at the expense of those at the bottom of the legal property ladder.

According to Search Acumen, the total number of conveyancing firms active in the market dropped 1 per cent over the quarter (4,144 to 4,100 firms) and by 2 per cent year-on-year from 4,191 in Q3 2017.

It says this continues a trend that has played out since Q3 2011, where the number of conveyancing firms active in the market has dropped by 15 per cent, with 700 firms disappearing as a result of mergers, acquisitions, periods of dormancy or exiting the market altogether.

Smaller conveyancers have been the greatest victim of market consolidation as over the past five years alone, the number of firms handling up to 25 transactions a month has fallen by 10 per cent from 3,662 to 3,278. Over the same period, larger players in the market – those handling more than 50 transactions per month – have increased by 31 per cent, from 268 to 353.

According to Search Acumen, average monthly transaction volumes have increased by a fifth (20 per cent) in the past five years, increasing from 50 transactions a month on average in Q3 2013, to 60 in Q3 2018.

However, firms outside the top 1,000 have only seen 9 per cent growth on average during that period.

Search Acumen managing director Andrew Lloyd says: “Over much of this decade, we have witnessed a clear consolidation of conveyancing business at the top end of the market. Technology has been a big driver in allowing smarter firms to steal a march on their rivals, which in turn means that the smaller, local conveyancers have struggled as market consolidation bites. They have seen their margins squeezed, local business networks shrink and opportunities to find new business diminished.

“In contrast, larger firms have been able to take advantage of market consolidation as more cases come their way. They have geared up their businesses and continued to grow over the last five years even as the market’s growth has slowed from the heady days of 2014 to 2016. Others have seized the opportunity to enter the fray for the first time with new propositions or aligned themselves with former rivals through mergers to stem the tide.”

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