A conveyancing expert has set out how the legal sector can best navigate the challenges ahead.
Colum Smith, Chief Vision Officer at Taylor Rose MW
, spoke out amid reports claiming a lack of legal staff as being behind the now record 133 days a typical sale takes from accepted offer to completion.
Mr Smith said: “It is not easy right now in the conveyancing sector. Despite wild claims in some parts of the mainstream media of a house market crash, demand continues to be very strong. And prices in many parts of the UK are still rising. I strongly suspect media reports saying the market is about to tail away are encouraging many people to try and rush through a property sale. Others, understandably concerned by the cost of living crisis, are looking to downsize, bank the money they make on a move and save it for a rainy-day. But the result has been a surge in demand across the sector which was already desperately trying to keep pace.”
In some parts of the UK buyers are now reportedly having to wait four months.
Some regions have it harder than others it seems and chains are collapsing at a cost of thousands of pounds in wasted property surveys and solicitors' fees.
In many cases the logjam is holding up purchases for so long that some buyers are even seeing their mortgage offers expire.
Mr Smith added: “As the spotlight shines on our industry there are two issues that are bizarrely not being talked about.
“The first is fraud. We must remember that whenever a system is creaking it creates opportunities for criminals.
“And hackers behind increasingly sophisticated scams will be looking to try and capitalise on the current issues within our sector.
“We all need to be on red-alert and we must be honest with our customers too and make clear that the risk of them being targeted is probably higher than ever.
“The current situation also brings into focus, once again, the need for modernisation within our sector.
“It’s not surprising that the companies who are navigating this current climate the best are the ones who have invested in new technology and have been open-minded to change.
“Nobody can argue that there are elements of the conveyancing process that still need improvement.
“And this modernisation wouldn’t just benefit our sector - it could be a huge boost to the UK housing market as well.
“For years now conveyancing has been way too slow, arduous and fraught with problems.
“Although there have been advancements, the sector is still notorious for its heavy use of paper rather than digital technology.
Mr Smith said technology offers “the key to facilitating a path out of this” adding: “We need greater communication, speedier actions and additional transparency through to completions.
“Sadly though, while all other parts of the property industry have embraced new tech, the legal side has all too often not shown similar enthusiasm.
“One of the biggest areas where conveyancing is being made all the more cumbersome, is through the manual and fragmented legacy constraints in digitising the processes of asset transferral and ownership authentication.
Mr Smith said the current market bottlenecks can’t be blamed on lawyers’ slow digital transformation alone.
“A lot of important tech innovations rely on primary data coming from public sources, such as local authorities,” he added.
“Until their processes catch up with where the private sector is at, the market will remain hamstrung. It seems crazy that problems accessing information digitally are still delaying transactions in this day and age.
“Digital is an aspect of the conveyancing industry that will only continue to grow, whether you’re a conveyancer, a search provider, surveyor, estate agent, data provider, or a house purchaser.
“Yet whilst it’s all well and good having all this amazing technology at our fingertips, we must also remember that in person relationships, whether personal or professional are still vitally important and a key aspect that touches everything we do – over and above technology.
“When things go wrong, you want to pick up the phone and speak to that person that can help and advise you. Just like when things go right, there’s nothing better than celebrating it with those colleagues and team members you work so closely with. Human brain power matters, good relationships are key, good service is paramount.
“Technology is a wonderful tool to enhance and elevate how we work, but people and the support we provide each other really can make or break it.”