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Is Conveyancing due a facelift?

Sometimes change isn’t necessary…as the old saying goes, if it isn’t broke don’t Brexit, sorry fix it. Although some change can be good and for the better of everyone…

Following concerns about the conveyancing process, Justice Minister Dominic Raab has confirmed there will be a ‘call for evidence’ to be published later this year following a Westminster Hall debate.

During the debate qualified solicitor and Colchester MP Will Quince suggested several ideas on ways to improve and speed up the process.

Quince who specialised in residential property work, agreed that any changes to legislation should involve a consultation process with the estate agent industry to ensure changes are actually beneficial. Home Information Packs, which were introduced in 2007, were mentioned as an example of why this consultation process is key.

The government scrapped the controversial packs in 2010 as they slowed the housing market because they were costing sellers sometimes hundreds of pounds to put their home up for sale and also added a layer of regulation in to the process.

Suggested changes included:

• A pre-contract financial commitment to avoid ‘gazumping’ which would be forfeit should the seller, without warning, raise the price or pull out without warning’

• Simplify the mortgage application process by using industry-standard instructions and documents for conveyancers to deal with. Quince referred to the Council of Mortgage Lenders’ handbook – parts one, two and three in, which all lenders have different requirements. Reducing this handbook would lead to a reduction in the work a conveyancer will considerably speed up the process

• Comprehensive and standardised questionnaires to create consistency so people complete the forms when the property is originally put on the market. At present, when a sale is agreed conveyancers are instructed and a retainer is paid to the conveyancer and they send out property information protocol forms to their clients. The forms are not straightforward and can take several hours / even days to complete and return already delaying the process by at least a week

• Estate agents having to obtain basic information at the point at which a property is marketed and provide more detailed standard property questionnaires from the conveyancer prior to a sale being agreed

• A centrally held database of management packs dealing with leasehold properties

Quince did attribute some delays in the conveyancing process towards conveyancers stating that ‘factory conveyancing’ was leading to delays but also potentially costing clients. As fees fall, margins fall and firms need to take on more and more work to remain profitable making conveyancers reactive instead of proactive out of necessity. This means the client suffers when conveyancers are not able to meet their rightly high expectations.

Raab said few people in England and Wales seemed keen to use conditional contracts such as a cost-guarantee or lock-in/lock-out agreements. This could be due to costs or a lack of awareness, or difficulty in securing such terms but the ’lack of use or take-up should give some pause for thought before prescribing a single mandatory remedy as a silver bullet.

Raab also added there may be ‘wider’ benefits in making property information more accessible online and if the Land Registry take over the local land charges register from local authorities this would help to reduce overheads and eliminate regional variations and practices.

A call for evidence on options to modernise the homebuying process, announced at the time of last year’s autumn statement, will be published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills ‘later this year’, which will invite evidence and proposals from the property industry and consumers.

For more information contact Nicola O’Hanlon at BCL Legal.

 

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