Conveyancing is broken; it’s old fashioned and slow to change. Of all the parts of a property transaction, as an agent, I hate this part the most. Is it because I hate legal people? No. In fact, quite the opposite; I’m a little bit heartbroken that it’s not as traditional as it used to be. You see, I am a hypocrite when it comes to conveyancing as since the age of 18 I have almost always used my local family solicitor; a quintessential, quite eccentric, and hugely knowledgeable small-town solicitor. Visits to his office involved climbing a spiral staircase up three floors to his ‘ivory tower’ which was a small office in the eaves of a Victorian building where you had to navigate the maze of his files to find which corner the bespectacled genius was located in. For over 14 years this was the simplest and quickest way to get my own purchases and sales done. The updates would come in what we would call a “multi-platform” way, namely as he popped his head in my office on his way to the post office, or via SMS. Up until last year he was still rocking a Nokia 3310 (if it isn’t broke…) and in the car park at the end of the day he climbed into his giant German gas guzzler that would transport him back to the family farm. If he hadn’t retired I would still be working this way today, like a quality affordable bespoke tailor the affordable family solicitor who knows and has acted for three generations of your family is as hard to come buy as a unicorn (fictional or the UK tech variety).
So, what do I do now? I’m afraid I can’t say I’ve found a better service than I had in the past, and I have tried quite a few firms now, both online and on the high street. However, I must say that there are two firms that have done well enough for me to be able to feel confident in recommending them to our own estate agency clients. I’m also totally transparent to those clients that we also get a referral fee for passing them over. I know many agents and commentators find this a deplorable act, but frankly its simple to me; lots of legal firms pay a referral fee to agents, the key is to not pick the one with the highest referral fee, but to pick the one with a great service. This way you are not putting your self-interest before that of the client. But whatever you do, don’t force them into using your recommended firm by using clever contracts and empty discounts because that would make you just as bad as those that do, in my opinion. Remember, if a client’s hand is forced and the service drops then they will blame you and your company, whereas if the client was merely recommended and the service drops from the legal people then they will most likely ask you to help sort the problem rather than blame you for forcing them to use the failing legal firm. There are more places to post bad reviews than Trustpilot, so make sure you choose your partners carefully.
With regards to recommending conveyancing firms - there are so many people claiming to be working on fixing it, from CRM providers lauding their basic data entry & display as revolutionary, to legal firms claiming to be tech-driven simply because their case management system allows agents or clients to view the progress on a case. I am going to ignore companies I consider fall under these examples as I consider that to be more akin to sales progression than conveyancing. Instead I will talk about two firms that I have had experience both using as a customer and actually getting under the hood of.
The market leader and the elephant in the room is MyHomeMove (also known as PPL or premier property lawyers). My Home Move are essentially a factory conveyancing company who have cleverly located themselves in big out of town offices and taken advantage of economies of scale. The only way this mammoth operation works is the use of some decent technology. They use their propriety system named eWay that allows clients to receive a quote, instruct, upload documents and get updates on their case all over the web. It’s good in that you can login as an agent and see your files, those of your team, and set up from individual members of the team. My Home Move incentivise your team by providing a points-based rewards system, which encourages team members to earn rewards by referring clients (my team particularly enjoy this…) The one downside I would say is the design and user interface is a little dated now with lots of ugly forms, but let’s not get things twisted; this is still streets ahead of most other conveyancing systems out there. Not having a local contact can frustrate some clients, but in all honesty many clients don’t want to do everything face to face these days, as time goes on and technology increases its dominance this will become a non-issue.
The other firm I think is very interesting is When You Move. These guys have been quietly building a conveyancing offering that is genuinely leveraging exciting new technology and a platform that can do some interesting things. I’m always keen to look at new offerings, and these guys have no doubt benefited by learning from the successes and failures of others in this space and have set about building a platform build from the bottom up. I was a very early user in the beta and have subsequently seen the updated version too. This product will be hard to beat. One of the great things about it is that that you don’t have to use their panel of lawyers as you can get your own preferred conveyancer or solicitor added to their system. This brings together lawyers, mortgage advisors and agents with transparent communication. The downside is that it’s a new technology and like all new technology (including ours at Hystreet) it will need a bit of time to get perfect, but patience with these things is generally well rewarded. Overall, I honestly think it has the potential to change this broken process - check out their one-minute video here
I’m not even going to bore you with blockchain and the future as I honestly do not feel we are anywhere near to being close to having widespread use of that in the industry for a few years, but if you are interested it may be worth checking out what Click to Purchase are doing, with around £200m worth of transactions already executed online it’s at the forefront of what’s happening in this space.
In conclusion, conveyancing is important. For my estate agency business 5% of our turnover comes from conveyancing referrals, so for any estate agency it can be a great source of additional income if your partners are chosen on quality rather than purely financial gain.
This week there were a lot of interesting articles about legislating the industry but what caught my eye was the following:
Apart from the irony of a firm who very publically got caught out for not being transparent calling for more transparency, what interests me is how millions are spent by online agents to “commoditise” estate agency in the eyes of the public. As one of my clients said, “the longer we offer only one service, the easier it will be for onliners to compare apples and oranges and the average client to fall into the trap of thinking they will be saving thousands”. So, in response to Purplebricks’ obvious need to know what our fees are, I will go first. My agency’s hybrid service is £780+VAT, which £87 more than they charge. There no point discussing a high street fee unless they want to open an office and offer a comparable full, traditional, top-level high street service. If they do, then either of the Bruce brothers can email me and I will happily tell them what I charge for that too. Next week I will be talking about one of the oldest marketing tools for agents, and why it isn’t going anywhere soon…