Perfect storm faces conveyancers before stamp duty hike


Stakeholders in the property industry have been more critical than usual of conveyancers lately, but it is perhaps no surprise with the market frenzy to complete transactions before the increased stamp duty payable by buy-to-let investors and second homeowners kicks in from April.

Conveyancers are no doubt braced once more to have the finger continually pointed at them over transaction delays. But, as a business that supports conveyancers in achieving their targets, we obviously get to see a different side to them, which brokers aren’t necessarily privy to.

The truth is we are seeing conveyancers already working very hard across the board to help second homebuyers and landlords get through to completion before the April 1st deadline.

For example, they are organising their pipelines a lot more efficiently and prioritising introducer-led business that needs to complete urgently over those clients that have no concerns putting off their transactions until after April.

Three out of four conveyancers identify staff recruitment and training as one of the key barriers to growth in 2016, according to our latest Conveyancer Market Tracker, leaving many without the option to hire more skilled part-timers. Instead, they’re putting in extra hours of what could otherwise have been leisure time to help clients through to completion.

It is taking time for a recovering market to hire new recruits, train them and delegate the weighty responsibility of handling cases, which means the suggestion they hire help is frustratingly unrealistic. It’s often the case there’s simply no one to hire!

Don’t get me wrong: brokers should can be perfectly justified in expecting better service at times. Conveyancers need to stay committed to improving their processes – especially if they want brokers to keep recommending them to their clients.

But brokers also have to manage their own clients’ expectations by pointing out the vital due diligence the oft-lambasted solicitor will be performing on their investment.

The Society of Licensed Conveyancers has already warned that the stamp duty changes would place “undue responsibility on conveyancing lawyers” to not only conveyance “but also to detect when clients may not be disclosing other property assets, and which may of course be held abroad.”

There are also different levels of incentive and commercial mindedness to contend with in the conveyancing market.

Many local authorities, for example, are working to improve their business focus, but their timescales have not shifted dramatically despite the April 1st deadline. So it is still taking time to acquire search results from them.

We are committed to alleviating solicitors’ burdens by thinking ahead and delivering essential property search data with a minimum of fuss. It removes the need for them to chase us for results – which is just as well, given the pressure they will be under from brokers, estate agents and clients requesting quick updates on their individual cases.

As the April deadline approaches, frustrations are likely to grow. But let us try not to forget that conveyancers are working proactively to service clients, and should not sacrifice the necessary due diligence to propel them over the finish line.

Mark Riddick is chairman of Search Acumen