Conveyancer abuse: our response
We are reaching out to the wider property community to create a unified resource in managing homebuyer expectations during COVID-19. This is in response to reports of increasing levels of abuse towards conveyancers and other stakeholders within the housing industry.
Elizabeth Jarvis, Managing Director, OneSearch Direct, comments:
“As a search provider, we’re concerned about the situation unfolding. Turnaround times for regulated local searches are increasing daily, with Harrogate currently taking 100 days, South Cambridge District Council 75 days, and Thanet taking 40 days (as of 15th Nov 2020). There are many reasons why delays are increasing; detailed further in our daily turnaround table, and these bottlenecks are building more pressure by the day. Volumes have risen, but the resources necessary for councils to facilitate them have not. The situation is untenable and there needs to be a solution now.
“Unfortunately the disparity over how each council operates is a longstanding issue, magnified by this pandemic. The lack of uniformity in processing search requests has a lot to do with why some councils take 3 days and others 45. This is not a criticism of the councils, as we maintain excellent relationships with them and feel their pain too. No one is immune from strained resources today. My comment is more an indictment of the neglect to future-proof such a vital part of the property chain. Of course, nobody could prepare for COVID, and we know current volumes are not permanent, but the way we react now will have a lasting impact.
“We know searches are only one part of the wider picture. As we are similarly beholden to service levels outside of our own remit, we empathise with those in the same boat. What is happening now is nobody’s fault. The focus, in my opinion, needs to shift from one of blame, to one of creating solutions.”
As reported in Today’s Conveyancer last week, conveyancers are working excessive hours to the detriment of their physical and mental wellbeing, mostly to maintain their normal standard of service. In our latest newsletter, we asked subscribers to share their views on this topic. Jacqueline Emmerson, Managing Director and Solicitor from Emmersons Solicitors, said her staff had been subjected to abuse for months, including posting libelous comments on social media. One angry client even entered the law firm’s office, which was closed to the public, and shouted at staff whilst not wearing a mask, putting them all at potential risk of COVID. Jacqueline said, “clients seem to have lost all sense of politeness and kindness.”
Lidia Quinlan, Head of Sales, OneSearch Direct, comments:
“When we read comments like these, we are obviously horrified. COVID has brought out the best in a lot of people, but it’s also unfortunately brought out the worst in others. We’re hearing of more and more conveyancers being subjected to verbal and online abuse, which is obviously unacceptable. It beggars belief that frustrations are being directed toward those working tirelessly to secure the biggest investment most of us will ever make.
“There is no point blaming lenders, estate agents, conveyancers, search providers, surveyors, vendors, because at the end of the day all hands are tied by some obstacle. Any hostility in our industry is misplaced and wasting effort that could otherwise focus on finding a solution. There is no doubt that the home buying and selling process needs review, but what we need right now is an immediate fix. What can we do now to stall this rise in fall-throughs?
“When it comes to searches, the ways we’ve been stemming the flow are threefold. We can obtain information for an additional cost from local authorities to reduce regulated local search turnaround times. We are also offering search delay insurance to allow conveyancers to transact with protection from financial loss, for the duration between the search being applied for and returned. We’ve also been offering our Express indemnity policy for times when transactions are at real risk of collapse.
“What we’d most like to achieve right now, though, is to manage everyone’s expectations. Not just our clients but their clients too. Our extended turnaround table for regulated local authority searches is updated daily and can be accessed freely by conveyancers and their clients alike. We are also working with firms around how best to communicate changes with an informative resource. This will be a brief and simplified explanation of why homebuying is taking so long at the moment, and we invite anyone in the industry to share it, to educate the anxious homebuyer and set clear expectations."
This is a breathing document, so we invite others from the industry to add their views by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The more rounded the picture, the higher the hope of tempering flames.