Do the conveyancers you recommend to people damage your reputation?

08 May 2013

Ask an estate agent ‘what are your pet hates about a conveyancer?’ The answers are always the same. Always. Lack of communication, calls not returned, lack of solutions to problems, ‘conveyor belt’ of case handlers, inexperienced staff, they don’t use email, when asking to speak to the solicitor getting the reply ‘sorry he is engaged and his secretary in on another call, can you please call back’ and ‘no we didn’t get the fax’ are just some examples.

Of course conveyancers must be prompt. From a business point of view, unless and until an exchange of contracts takes place, a conveyancer might not get paid. This has always been the case. Yet many conveyancers still fail to grasp this. Even now. With numbers of transactions as low as they are, and with buyers more commonly getting cold feet, it is so important to ensure a prompt exchange of contracts – though not a hasty or reckless one.

However, conveyancers must be more than prompt. Conveyancers cannot afford to provide anything other than a first class service, not in the present climate. Yet there are still those whose quality is suspect.

With clients demanding ever better service, mistakes and tardiness will lose business, and if you are an estate agent who made the recommendation, this will surely damage your reputation – and at a time when you least need it. Conveyancing solicitors who recognise efficiency, and who demonstrate a drive to improve transactions, will be an asset in helping your estate agency to move through the current hard times and come out stronger on the other side. You do not need to even be an estate agent business. Mortgage advisors, surveyors are similarly exposed.

But your motivation to refer mediocre conveyancers may well be a financial one, as they may pay you for every client you put their way. And you do not care if the service they offer is just average or even bad? Cash is king, right? Or your estate agency may own or be owned by such conveyancers, so the quality of the conveyancer is not material to your recommendation? And yet the paying customer only finds out after they have been herded into poor service with or without hidden legal charges and costly errors on a resale?

But just because you receive a fee for referring does not mean the conveyancing solicitor needs to be mediocre. Even expertly dynamic conveyancers pay referral fees. It is the quality of the conveyancer that is important.

So in what way does delay and bad practice continue by some conveyancers, and what traits should conveyancing solicitors be looking to correct – and estate agents be looking for as an asset?

Delay is often a client’s instruction to their conveyancer, so ignoring that, delay more commonly revolves around standards themselves. Standards can often slip as a result of a low fee.  This is not to say that cheap conveyancing cannot result in a successful transaction. Of course it can. However, even at cheap fees, profit has to be made, so corners may be cut. It then ends up being the other conveyancing solicitor in the transaction (who charges a fair price) who makes up for their failings. Cheap fees, can also bread inexperience. Even now some firms consider the recruitment of non-qualified staff as some miracle cure to pulling through the economic crisis. Does this not hark back to the failing model of call centres and high volume workloads? The news only too recently has shown this model to be failing.

There simply needs to be a hunger to ‘go that extra mile’ in terms of service to the client and to deliver it – a presence of foresight to want to win repeat business. In peak times, many conveyancers did not have to go looking for the next piece of work, but now, every firm should be demonstrating a drive to survive the recession and provide a winning service that complements both their own and any estate agent referring business.

There are a multitude of ways a conveyancing solicitor can always improve, resulting in faster transactions, and better overall service to the whole process.  We see it right now, for example:

  • Request leasehold management information as soon as possible without being prompted into action by the buyer.
  • Avoid raising pre-contract enquiries for the sake of it, but have confidence and accept that some transactions do not require any enquiries to be asked.
  • Keep estate agents informed – whether by a simple phone call, email, weekly email/fax updates – you can help!
  • Avoid intellectual point-scoring battles – be it about whether a property needs a FENSA certificate for a window pane fitted around a cat flap 5 years ago, or whether a statutory declaration supporting 20+ years access is enough without indemnity insurance.
  • Think, and consider properly whether they can dismiss the ‘issue’ and move on without resorting to an automatic request for indemnity insurance and getting everyone’s backs up.
  • Maintain good relationships with the estate agent whether through email updates, seminars, in-house training or just a simple chat over coffee.
  • Employ qualified staff (e.g. solicitors and charted legal executives) who are able to make instant decisions, and who know immediate answers when estate agents and clients call.

If conveyancers have no drive and provide poor service, they may lose clients, they will lose referrals, and word spreads. They may also taint and hurt the businesses they work with. Conveyancers should look to their standards and make sure they are as high as they can be.  Now is the ideal time to ensure that quality standards are a priority and that your business is aligned with those conveyancing solicitors you feel can deliver for your business.